The real purpose of a networking event is to make new acquaintances, NOT pump other professionals for information that serves you. When meeting people, the first step is to establish rapport, and that always means finding out what you have in common.
When a group of adults are paired up and given the challenge of finding common interests, it generally takes about 12 seconds for the first pair to shout “Success!” And it DOES feel like success with you create a bond, however tentative, with another person.
I know. Eleven years ago, I went on a first date that changed my life. It was arranged by a professional matchmaker. Before the date, we had only a 15-minute phone conversation. Standing in the line at Starbucks, he asked, “How many kids in your family?”
I said: “Six. I was number five. But it was more like a Borg. A big, noisy, Catholic Borg with our own belief system, rules and world view. Resistance was futile.”
In that one remark, we were connected.
He knew in an instant that I understood what he experienced growing up with lots of siblings. I was Five of Six and he was One of Six. Perhaps even more important, he knew I was a Star Trek fan. Only a Trekkie would know about the common mind of the drone creatures of the Borg.
The conversation took off after that. And, 11 years later, we are still talking, constantly.
So, how DO you establish rapport? Here are some questions to take into your next business event:
- What attracted you to this event?Have you been here before?
- What’s this group like?
- Do you have any great travel plans?
- What are you reading these days?
- What are you watching on TV? Do you have a favorite TED Talk? Podcast?
- Where do you live?
- I love that scarf! (tie, shirt, necklace, purse, dress, etc.) Where did you get it?
If this sounds too basic, you’re over-thinking this. The idea is to connect to the person and their life style. The travel plans question leads easily to information about immediate family. If you tap into that, you probably have a friendship in the making. The “where do you live?” question leads to conversation about children, school systems, relocation, hometown, lifestyle and a myriad of other topics. The compliment (#7) is the universal way for women to express approval and share resources.
The point is: enjoy making the connections. The business end of networking comes later, when you meet one-on-one.