How do start a conversation with a stranger? I have recently been running Communication skills courses focusing on building relationships and this is a question that comes up every time, alongside other questions on how to network. The word ‘networking’ seems to cause a negative reaction in some people. It conjures up images of large rooms full of strangers and people who only want to talk to you to see if they can sell to you. The most positive and confident people I know have become tongue tied at the mere thought of networking. So perhaps the question is “how to network, without thinking of it as networking.”
In NLP we call it reframing, finding another way to look at the situation. After all we are human beings and part of who we are is that we communicate and create relationships with other people. For those people who want to know how to network and who don’t like the idea of selling, then this is what we can do. Focus on the fact that you want to get to know more people, you want to understand more about the world you live in. Don’t think of it as how to network, more how to be curious.
How to network – 5 things to think about
Find Your Place
You can meet the most interesting people in the strangest of places. There are many different opportunities to expand your network out there. From the direct approach of organisations such as BNI, through the topic/speaker led events, to the world of wacky non business related gatherings, explore and see what works for you. It doesn’t have to be formal either, sometimes the best networking is done informally on a 1:1 basis.
People love to talk about themselves. It seems in my experience that the people who have the most trouble networking say things like “I will have nothing in common with them” or “they wont be interested in talking to me, I have nothing to offer”. Some people network to gather business cards and get work, fact. Some people network to make connections and understand people with the idea that one day they may be able to help each other, directly or indirectly. For me its the latter, so I network to get to know people, to understand who they are and what they do. I listen and I ask questions. We sometimes we end up doing business together, I always learn something new about work/life.
Bring Your Interests
Whilst I will always encourage people to listen more than they talk in these situations it is also important to have your own contribution to the conversation. Why did you come to the event you are at? What has captured your interest recently? Have you been working on anything interesting recently? A little bit of upfront thought and preparation goes a long way.
I worked in London for 18 years and then moved up to the Midlands, the first think that struck me was the number of conversations random strangers would have with me, someone they didn’t know. Get used to talking to people in all types of situations. Strike up those small talk conversations that may evolve at times into something amazing. It gets easier every time you do it!
And be yourself. People will gravitate to and engage with those who are authentic or real. Be yourself, develop your approach and network with others in an honest and genuine way. Don’t take in personally if you don’t create a great relationship with everyone you meet, but appreciate the ones that are!