If you are at a networking event, firstly do your research on people, and secondly, don’t talk all about work!
The three-step process
The purpose of networking events (whether they be industry networking events, or community networking events) is to mingle and meet as many people as you can during the time allotted. If you don’t have a strategy to meet particular people or how you are going to work the room, you may not be maximising your attendance at the event. A good goal is to meet with someone, talk with them for a few minutes, and then politely move to the next person.
Where do you meet new people? It’s pretty easy to Google “networking groups” in your local area. There are also the obvious ones like Rotary, the local Schools etc. It’s also worth checking out the relatively new www.meetup.com for different types of networking groups in your area. Finally, join some groups on LinkedIn, there are always networking events happening right under your nose!
Here is a three-step process that you can use to tailor your strategy for meeting and connecting with the right people.
- Meet – you introduce yourself and share some information about yourself. You create a great first impression by using some of the techniques mentioned in the previous lessons. Finally, you engage the person by asking questions that focus on them instead of you.
- Monitor – you should remain focused on the discussion. If you see the conversation becoming off topic or that the conversation is slowing down, then you need to move on. If you have a goal to meet a certain amount of people for that event, then plan a certain amount of time you will spend with each person. Either way, you need to monitor the conversation to determine when the conversation is becoming counterproductive.
- Move on- when the time is right, break the conversation politely and move on.
How do you move on politely? Sometimes, being honest is the best policy. You may need to tell the person you are speaking with that you wish to meet other people. Hand them a business card and offer to meet with them on another occasion (this is optional). Thank the person you are speaking with and then continue mingling.
The four levels of conversation
Communication among us humans can occur at four distinct levels. Understanding these levels will help you determine how you want to communicate. This in turn will help you plan your topics for discussion beyond “the weather and everybody’s health” and avoid any touchy topics.
There are four levels of conversation based on the degree and amount of personal disclosure. They are:
1. Small Talk: This is commonly referred to as the ‘exchange of pleasantries’ stage. In this level, you talk only about generic topics, subjects that almost everyone is comfortable discussing. These subjects include the weather, the location you’re both in and current events.The small talk stage establishes rapport; it makes a person feel at ease with you. It’s also a safe and neutral avenue for people to subtly ‘size up’ one another, and explore if it’s a conversation or relationship that they’d want to invest in.If the small talk goes well, you can proceed into the next level: fact disclosure.
2. Fact Disclosure: In this stage, you tell the other person some facts about you such as your job, perhaps where you live and even some of your interests.This is a ‘getting-to-know’ stage, and it aims to see if you have something in common with the other person. It’s also a signal that you are opening up a little bit to the other person while still staying on neutral topics. If the fact disclosure stage goes well, you can proceed to sharing viewpoints and opinions.
3. Viewpoints and Opinions: In this stage of the conversation, you can offer what you think about various topics like the “state of the market”, what’s current on social media or in the news.
Make sure you read up on current events and local news to have a wide range of topics for discussion!
Sharing viewpoints and opinions require the ‘buffering effect’ of the first two stages for two reasons:
- First, a person needs rapport with another before they can discuss potentially contentious statements, even if they are having a healthy debate.
- Second, sharing viewpoints and opinions opens a person to the scrutiny of another, and this requires that there is some level of safety and trust in a relationship.
The controversial, and therefore potentially offensive, nature of an opinion exists in a range; make sure that you remain within the ‘safe’ zone in the early stages of your relationship.
4. Personal Feelings: The fourth stage is disclosure and acknowledgement of personal feelings. For instance, you can share your excitement for the new project or your worry about your son’s upcoming piano recital. Depending on the context and the level of the friendship, you can disclose more personal subjects. This stage requires trust, rapport, and even a genuine friendship, because of the intimate nature of the subject.
Different people have different comfort levels when it comes to disclosing feelings, and there are cases when you’d need several conversations before they would trust enough to open themselves. In some cases, you never get to this stage, or it may be the first topic of conversation if a property is being sold due to something like, for example, separation.
Just make sure to be sensitive and test the other person’s readiness before opening an intimate topic.Listening is vital in all stages of the conversation but especially so in this fourth stage. Listen with empathy and understanding to acknowledge that you heard the feeling that they have shared.
At any given time, you can be engaged in any or all of these levels. Nonetheless, understanding what each level it is helps you better strategise your approach to meeting people. For example, you can plan an opening discussion after you introduce yourself around a current event. You can review a topic in advance and be prepared for that conversation. Next, you can plan to have a brief discussion about yourself. Again, you can plan what you want to say about yourself and focus on those items only. Finally, the last part of your discussion could focus on your product or service you represent.
Understanding the levels of conversation will help you plan the specific topics you want to discuss and approach the meet and greet with a level of security that is no easy to achieve.
“More business decisions occur over lunch and dinner than at any other time, yet no MBA courses are given on the subject.” Peter Drucker