Of all the evils of the modern professional world, networking might be the scariest. You already have to deal with corporate jargon, meetings about meetings, and Susan- now you have to stiffly introduce yourself to strangers, too? This is how I felt last year when I entered a role that required networking. Surprisingly, though, after the first few experiences networking became less anxiety-inducing, and even approached feeling natural. The key is to have a few go-to conversation tricks in your back pocket. When you know you can recover from an awkward pause, you’ll be confident enough to shake off those jitters and make real connections. I hope my tips below help you out at your next event!
Use clothing: Okay, I know this sounds weird, but your clothes and others’ clothes can be major ice breakers. I was at a networking event once and my coworker easily started a conversation with a girl standing next to us by saying “I love your purse!”. She later whispered to me that she didn’t actually care for the purse, but telling someone you love their outfit is the easiest intro there is. At a later event, there was a local entrepreneur I wanted to meet, and I used her trick: I told him that my boyfriend had been looking for a suit the exact color of his, and would he mind telling me where he found it? I don’t even have a boyfriend! Ha! Point is, it got us talking.
Yes, and: There is a rule from a comedy improv (learned from Amy Poehler’s book). If someone asks you a question, answer the question, and add something. A plain “yes” or “no” majorly hits the brake in a conversation. Conversely, try not to ask yes/no questions- ask something subjective! Why and how, instead of what.
Play to the ego: Look, narcissism is human nature. We all love talking about ourselves. So ask people questions about themselves, and really listen to their answer. Respond thoughtfully, and specifically. Don’t feign interest, either; this is something I definitely had to learn, but the old adage is true that everyone you meet knows something (or someone) you don’t. So even if you’re an artist and Bob here is an accountant for a cement company, he probably took a more meandering path than you’d expect and has some advice or connection that might just make the whole cringe worthy night worth it.