How to Get Beyond Networking Small Talk

Article by Frank TraditiYou’ve decided to take the plunge and make networking a regular practice. You’ve picked the organizations or events where you want to go, and you start to meet people. You’re doing a good job of breaking the ice with a creative opening line or two, but then what happens?

Dead air. It’s like somebody pressed the pause button. There’s that moment of silence that feels as if it’s a week long. What do you do?

Run for the door? Accidentally, on purpose, spill your drink? Create a diversion? I guess those ideas might work. But you’ll miss a a great opportunity.

A better approach is to be prepared with some questions, comments, opinions, or issues you are passionate about. This is your chance to kick it up a notch and create the next level of conversation with people you meet.

Here are some tips for when you find yourself in this awkward situation:

  1. Make a list of 5 thought-provoking questions that will get someone talking about more than just their job (or lack thereof). Go beyond the favorites we use at every encounter (e.g. what do you do or how do you know the host). For example:
    • What shape do you think the economy will be in 6 months from now?
    • What are people in your market talking about these days?
    • To another entrepreneur – What made you go out on your own? I’m always intrigued about how entrepreneurs got started.
    • What’s the biggest challenge your business is currently facing?
    • Where would be the best place for me to go to find out more about your industry? (This one just might land you an appointment with a key contact.)
  2. Make a list of 3 current issues in your field of expertise that intrigue you, and your opinion about them. Share your thoughts and ask what the other person thinks.
  3. Create your own survey. Say something like, “I’ve been talking to quite a few people recently and getting their opinion on what should be on a website’s home page. I’m revising mine and would love to know what you think is best.” Come up with 2-3 survey topics you could use for conversation. As a side benefit, you’ll also get some great ideas.
  4. Go to the website of the organization hosting the event and learn about what they are doing. Share your thoughts about these activities and ask the other person what they think about them.
  5. Introduce a new idea you have about anything you’re working on, and ask for an opinion. New ideas almost always spark an interesting conversation. When you recognize peoples’ opinions as providing value, you elevate your relationship with them.

Just remember to stick to the golden rule of networking with anyone at anytime: Networking is about giving, not getting. Keep your focus on the other person and what’s important to them. Helping others find solutions to their problems or new approaches to their goals will always produce a lively conversation.

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