As a business development executive at Innovative Learning Group, I can’t help but love talking to people! Learning the likes and dislikes of others boosts my energy and fulfills my need for connection. To me, the world becomes less crowded when we engage in genuine conversation. But while I have the gift of gab, I realize many others don’t enjoy chit-chat as much as I do. Especially at professional events.
Visualize this scenario. You’re at a networking event, conference, or professional association meeting. You don’t know a single soul in the room. You start to feel awkward standing by yourself, and your boss is expecting you to make two business connections. You scan the room and notice a small group mingling about 20 feet away. You begin the process of positive self-talk. “I can do this! No need to be nervous!” With a racing heart, sweaty hands, and flushed face, you gather the courage to walk up to the group…You feel that everyone is staring at you. And that’s the easy part. Next, you have to actually engage the group in conversation. Ugh.
So, how do you confidently start an authentic conversation with strangers at a networking event? Rest assured networking doesn’t have to feel awkward and daunting. Take a look at my favorite networking tips that can help anyone get the conversation going.
- Ask to join the group. That’s right! Go to them, don’t wait for them to come to you. When approaching a small group, say something like, “This group looks fun, mind if I join?”
- Introduce yourself last. Give everyone the opportunity to finish their introductions and conversations. Going last gives the impression that you care about what others have to say and that it’s not all about you. The group will turn to the newcomer and ask, “What is it that you do?”
- Let your guard down. Smile, be confident, and make genuine eye contact. Lower your defenses and be open to the best intentions of everyone in the group.
- Flip the script. Start your response with something other than the usual “I work for ABC Company and we…” Be unique and say something profound. For example, I like to say, “I could give you my elevator speech, but what I’d really like to know is: if you could do one thing to change the world, what it would be?”
- Allow the group to digest the question. Someone will usually say, “That’s a loaded question, and I’d have to think about it.” The person you posed the question to will most likely flip it back to you and ask, “What would you do?”
- Wow them! Give them an answer they were least expecting. I usually say, “If I could do one thing to change the world, I’d give everyone confidence. Confidence to be the best version of themselves. But hey, that’s what I do! I help employees gain confidence through learning. And by doing that, business leaders I work with get the performance results they desire. At ILG, we create custom training and tools to help employees do their jobs more effectively. I get to change the world every day.”
The group will be engaged, and you’ll have started the most interesting conversation of the evening.
Give these tips a go at the next event you attend. Before you know it, LinkedIn requests and connections will leave you feeling accomplished, and your boss will be delighted. Tweak it to fit your line of work and add your own flavor. Don’t be afraid to flip the script by being you!