During my time in graduate school I was inducted into an honor fraternity and attended monthly meetings with my classmates. The meetings would last an hour, but before the meeting portion would begin we would have a scheduled “networking time” for thirty minutes. This was a waste of time because as we learned last week the first objective in networking is to meet new people. You probably know a lot of people and as we have already learned everyone you know isn’t in your network. You should always be on the lookout for new and interesting people to meet. Your life is not static, it is dynamic. Things are changing all the time and you never know when people will leave your network and you will need some fresh faces in there to replace those who are leaving.
How to Introduce Yourself
The first step in meeting a new person is making an introduction. People make this way harder than it has to be. You don’t need to practice, you don’t need an elevator pitch, you don’t even really need a plan at all. This is an introduction:
“Hi, my name is Austin Lee, it’s nice to meet you.”
That’s it. Unless the person you are speaking to is extremely rude they will immediately reciprocate. The most critical piece is the very next thing that comes out of your mouth. If the next thing out of your mouth is the question: “What do you do?” then you LOSE. Everyone on the planet uses that line and let me tell you, people are WAY, WAY, WAY more interesting than what they do for a living. You need to learn how to start a conversation with someone that is memorable. Your introduction needs to be as far away from work as possible. Hang with me. We will get to the work stuff, but please don’t mess this up. Your conversations will be much more memorable and you will cover far more ground if you do it my way. After the simple introduction and response, ask a question about anything that requires a response of more than one word. I’ll include a list below, but you are a smart person, you can come up with this on your own. Use some context clues based on what they are wearing, what they are drinking, where the event is, what is happening in the town you are in, etc.
- I see you are a wine drinker, I’m not very knowledgeable, tell me something about wine that might surprise me.
- I thought for sure I was going to be late due to traffic, this place can be hard to get to after work, what’s your worst traffic experience here in town?
- I see you are a State U fan, I graduated from there. Tell me how you were feeling last week during the 4th quarter.
- I really like that tie you are wearing, I have such a hard time matching ties with my patterned shirts, tell me how you make it look that easy.
- They usually have good food here, my wife and I have gotten into a rut with our restaurant selections lately. Where are some places you’ve been lately that you’ve really enjoyed?
This doesn’t have to be hard, it just needs to be different than “What do you do?” That is coming!
Having a Conversation
Now you are having a conversation, that is great. You are talking about the weather, or sports, or food, or just about anything under the sun. You are asking lots of open ended questions, offering short answers to their questions and are genuinely interested in what they have to say. But, you are going to want to meet more people. See, the reason you don’t want to ask, “What do you do?” right away is because what if this person is boring, or rude, or pretentious, or any number of things that would make you NOT want to do business with them? Let’s say you really wanted to meet a good accountant and you went to an event and asked someone, “What do you do?” and they said, “I’m an accountant at Long Hours Accounting LLP.” You would instantly start trying to set up a meeting with them and you don’t know anything about them. Now, you have all the power. If you are developing a good rapport, this is the time to drop into the work talk. “That’s a great story. Listen, before I let you go, I have to know what you do for a living.” Then take it from there. It makes the work talk really short. You’ll exchange cards and pleasantries and then you are off to meet the next person. You do not want to collect 15 or 20 business cards at an event. You want to collect good people at the networking event. I promise you that while it sounds like this is going to take a long time, it will take less time than meeting 45-60 people a week and trying to call them and set up coffee and lunch with all of them just to find 3-4 good people for your network. The goal is to be meeting people all the time. We will get into that later in the series, but for now, collect stories and people. You never have to talk work with people that you don’t want to talk work with.