When I go to conventions or other industry events, I look forward to (and plan for) the networking parties and the times between sessions or keynotes when I can engage people who I think I would like to have in my orbit. As I wrote last week, you can never have too big of a network to draw on when you need advice or are on deadline.
Knowing that I’m likely to run into people I’ve heard of and want to meet, I do my pre-show planning. I try to find out a little bit about the people I want to chat up; what they do, where they’re from, who we know in common, etc. For me (and I’m writing this article because it probably applies to you, too!), I like to be prepared and not just open up with “Hi, I’m Carol. What do you do?” I mean, that’s just lame. So, here are a few things to keep in mind as you lay your game plan out:
I heard you’re great friends with Shelly! She loves working with you! I like to put people at ease, as they are more likely to warm up and not be so guarded or in a defensive posture. So part of how I approach new friends is to make them comfortable and let them talk about themselves a bit.
What’s the coolest thing you’ve seen at the show so far? Again, a pretty easy question and one that affords my new friend the opportunity to show off their industry chops. Give them the chance to weigh in with a professional opinion.
I heard you’re an avid snow skier! When I talk to someone who tells me I should meet so-and-so, I try to find out one thing that makes that person tick outside of work.
These types of opening ‘invitations to shine’ questions/statements make people feel comfortable. They are more likely to engage with you. I’m not networking to sell myself or my company, I’m there to make a new friend. A new contact. I’m networking and evaluating – does this person engender trust? Do they come off as polite, thoughtful, honest, etc.
To make a short story even shorter – if someone suggests you meet a colleague at an upcoming industry affair, ask a few background questions so you’ll be prepared to break the ice and make that new friend comfortable in their own skin. Ask open-ended questions and let them talk about themselves a little. The bottom line is that you’ll probably turn a stranger into a new contact and quite possibly, a new friend, sooner rather than later.