I was surrounded by people and completely alone. It was my first networking event in a new job and I had no idea what to do. I didn’t know what to say or to whom.
Thank goodness for Susan. She sat down beside me, took genuine interest in me and eventually turned my panic into a manageable level of discomfort. We shared some stories that night, which helped us connect and build rapport quickly.
Fast forward 15 years. I don’t remember the details of our conversation, but I’ll never forget how Susan made me feel. She rescued me from all that ugly awkwardness. She reached out to me, asked sincere questions and connected with me beyond the usual “what do you do, who do you work with, do you have a card?”
I’ve been to more networking events in the last year than I have in my entire 18-year career. Before each one, I get a little anxious. Before each one, I think of Susan and how she made me feel. And because of that experience with her, I remember that I just need to be myself, trust my instincts and rely on my strengths.
Networking doesn’t have to be a necessary pain to grow your business . . .
Talking to strangers can be awkward. Now that I’m making the networking rounds more regularly, I’ve learned that when I lean on the principles of storytelling, I actually have fun discovering and connecting with strangers in the room. We do business with people we relate to and trust so why not pepper in some stories?
Next time you’re feeling awkward at a networking event, try these 3 powerful story-inspired skills [Tweet This!].
Before each networking event, I express gratitude for each person I’m about to meet. This calms me and neutralizes transaction-minded behavior. Getting all wrapped up in your own anxiety-ridden story is likely to result in an icy reception. When you shift your energy from yourself to the people in the room, you ditch the air of desperation and your natural authority shines.
2. Ask Thoughtful Questions
Asking (and answering) the same old questions gets boring after a few of these events. Be genuinely curious. Instead of asking “What do you do?”, try “How did you get into ____?” to get a more revealing answer. When you ask questions like “What brought you here?” or “What are you excited about in your business these days?” it makes you stand out and fires up your networking buddy. It also gives you an opportunity to listen for how you fit into their story.
3. Share Your Own Story
Once you’ve got the introductions/elevator pitches out of the way, it’s time to start listening for your opportunity to open up. Hint: People tend to reciprocate, so if you ask thoughtful questions, the person you’re talking with will likely ask them back. This is when you want to have your story ready to go. Be mindful of the other person’s time and level of interest. You may only have a minute or two, so practice telling your story (usually the story of why you do what you do) in a compelling but concise way.
How do you engage with people at networking events? Leave a comment and let us know.