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The art of networking, Part 3: Don’t become stuck on a road to nowhere – how to hold an engaging, fruitful conversation…

ID-100207329Last week, I discussed how to make introductions at a networking event when you’re new to the process.

Now you’ve been introduced and pleasantries have been exchanged, in this post we’re going to pinpoint how you can bring an objective to your chat and how to forge a successful relationship with your audience as conversation continues.

Here are my tips on maintaining a discussion, and on making the most of the ‘window of opportunity’ you have with each attendee you encounter.

1. Ascertain what you want to get from the conversation. Your aim is not to dominate your chat, but there’s a lot to be said for having a point to your interaction. Keeping in mind a loose agenda, based on your research prior to the event, (see blog one in this series of posts on networking) stops a conversation from wandering.

2. Create a ‘living CV’. Again, utilising the groundwork you’ve done, form a tailored, living CV. Draw the examples from your background where you’ve offered your help to similar contacts, or within the industry your fellow networker comes from, so that they can easily understand the skills you hold. Predetermine your accomplishments and skills, any resources you have that could help your audience, and ‘enthusiasms’, i.e. your talents, competences beyond your current role and your outside interests. By doing this, you can offer specific, effective answers to any question they ask you.   


3. Don’t make your conversation a one-way street. Now you’re armed with what you’re able to say, don’t feel you’ve to reel it all off with no thought for the person or people you’re talking to. There’s a common mantra associated with networking, that we have one mouth and two ears, and to use them in that order. By listening to your fellow attendees, you can drill down further as to how you’re able to help them. You’re aiming to engage them, so don’t talk over them or down to them. Your new contacts will feel more appreciated and valued as a result.

4. Don’t feel that you have to shoe-horn everything into your conversation. Networking is a long-term game and you’ll have many conversations with your contacts over time. If you hold in mind the thought that the first conversation you have with someone won’t be the last, you won’t feel under such pressure to glean or give away every piece of information you hold or could gain. Networking is not just about the details you could gather – establishing trust and holding engaging conversations are vital elements of a successful relationship. If contacts feel they can’t trust you, they won’t want to help you in the future.

5. Have a list of topics/questions so that you don’t get ‘stuck’ in the middle of a conversation. Whilst it may seem a ‘fail-safe’ fall-back to start talking about the weather if conversation starts to turn dry, it’s not going to help you find out more about those you’re with. Carry a mental note of conversation ‘openings’ and topics that will lead to more detailed conversation (explorers).

Openers tend to be generic in nature so that they can be slotted into any conversation, regardless of the contact.

Examples of openers:

  • “What’s new?”
  • “I found that really interesting, particularly the area on….. What did you think of it?”
  • ”How did you get into….?”
  • “How did you go about….?”    ID-10046929

‘Explorers’ command more detail and an opportunity for the respondent to share anecdotes or stories that are more personal in nature (as opposed to something that could be gleaned from their CV). Here are some suggestions:

  • What’s a typical working day look like for you?
  • If you weren’t busy at work what would you be doing?
  • Dream holiday?
  • Worst job, and why?
  • Favourite TV programme, film, play, actor, actress, author, book, etc?
  • Biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome in your life?
  • Proudest moment?

It’s human nature that we like to talk about ourselves and our own lives. Instigating personal conversation, and showing that you’re actively interested and listening, will see you remembered as someone who cares and who is not self-serving. Balanced with conversation that presents your professional qualities and those of your fellow networkers, the interaction at each networking event should prove valuable.

Next week, in the final blog on this topic, we’ll look at exiting a conversation gracefully. Don’t forget, if you’d like executive coaching, management coaching or one-to-one support with your networking skills, you can contact me on 01302 220221.

Images courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

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