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Networking: How to get talking to new people

In the previous edition of Shipshape we looked at the importance of choosing events wisely and preparing for them in advance. This time here are some tips on how to get talking to new people.

Keep your ears open

At any networking opportunity it pays to have a few topics in mind that you can talk about. But it’s just as important to be ready to listen. Broadly speaking, you’ll be there to make new connections and the best way is to find out how you can help people. This isn’t going to be achieved by waffling on about yourself – even if you are a renowned raconteur.

Taking the plunge

This is the bit most people find challenging, but there are some easy options.

In the absence of an easy option or once you’re settled, look for an open group – where the participants aren’t in a tight circle looking inwards.

Approaching your target

It’s worth doing a few minutes of preparation before the event to identify people who will be there that you’d like to meet, such as by looking at LinkedIn profiles or company websites. Remember that everyone in the room is there to network, so why not with you?

Once you’ve identified a target group, get close, ideally to the side, but without invading their personal space. Make eye contact with the person who is just finishing speaking and smile, offer a good handshake, ask permission to join them and introduce yourself with just your first name. Either listen in to the existing conversation or open with a few easy small talk questions (see below).

Crucially, make a big effort to catch their name and use it in the small talk.

Small talk ideas

Remember that your purpose is to find out about other people. It’s important to speak less and listen more. Classic topics include:

Small talk should be about building rapport. Don’t go straight in with questions about what people do and what help they need.

We’ll discuss turning the conversation towards business matters in our next edition.

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