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.
- Chat to the people at the reception desk and then introduce yourself to the next person to arrive (once they’ve registered).
- If drinks are ‘help yourself’, go to the drinks station and take time to get your drink, then offer to pour or pass one to the next person who approaches.
- Catch the eye of the host and thank them for inviting you. Even better, ask them to introduce you to someone you’d particularly like to meet.
- Go up to anyone standing on their own. If you approach someone who is checking their phone they’ll probably be very keen to speak and immediately forget about that email. People who really do have something urgent to attend to will usually retreat to a corner and turn their back on the room. In which case, leave them to it!
- Saying hello to someone you already know is a good backup plan. While it’s useful to touch base with your existing contacts, meeting new people is your main goal. Find out about new people in the circle and be alert to letting other people join in the conversation. Don’t get too settled though. After a while move on and talk to someone new.
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:
- Their journey to the event
- Reason for attending/relationship to the organisers – who invited them
- The venue, food or drink
- What’s in the news – check online for the latest headlines
- Sport – especially current or very recent events
- The weather
- Popular culture – TV, cinema, theatre, exhibitions, etc
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.