Does the thought of walking into a room full of strangers and making relevant small talk make you nervous? You’re not alone. Networking is the Achilles’ heel of many businesspeople, says Dave Howlett, a Toronto-based consultant and speaker who specializes in networking and business development skills. Keeping a conversation going is hard work and doesn’t come naturally to many of us. And that can result in awkward pauses, social gaffes — and less than memorable encounters.
Howlett offers these networking tips to help you stand out in a crowd and build mutually beneficial personal and professional relationships:
Once you get beyond the introduction, “Hi, my name is… Nice to meet you,” most people resort to the classic — yet boring, “What brings you to this event?”, says Howlett. Try a different approach to put your new acquaintance at ease and help you make a lasting impression: First, pay a compliment. A flattering comment about a person’s watch, clothing or something else they are wearing can break the ice and impress the recipient. Just be sure it’s sincere; nothing puts off someone faster than false flattery. Next, try to establish areas of common interest by asking about personal passions; for example, what they do for fun on weekends. People like to talk about themselves. If you let them, they’ll go away thinking of you fondly.
Instead of approaching networking with a “what’s in it for me” attitude, focus on finding ways to ease someone else’s pain. Ask about business challenges or industry issues, for example. You’ll position yourself as someone who cares and can solve problems.
Make it easy for others to initiate conversations with you by wearing pins or broaches that represent your special interests. Howlett, for example, always wears either his Distinguished Toastmaster lapel pin or an Ironman pin, which he says prove to be valuable conversation starters.
Send two, handwritten, postage-stamped notes per week to people you want to build relationships with. Write notes at the same time every week to make it a habit. “People delete e-mails but display thank-you cards in their offices, where it makes them look like heroes in the eyes of their colleagues,” says Howlett. “On top of that, they’ll smile and think of you every time they see those notes.”