But at VEF last night I had a great time networking – and it was simple, too. I met seven new, interesting, technical, and business-oriented people. I learned new relevant things. I found out how others had solved non-trivial technical and social problems. And I heard about interesting companies doing cool things that I had somehow never heard of before.
It’s not about you
I focused on other people. Instead of coming up with all kinds of things to say, introductions to make, pitches to deliver, I just focused on others. Completely.
All of a sudden, everything became easy.
I would walk up to someone, say hi, and ask them what they do. Then I would just listen – really listen. People love to talk – most people, anyways. And their favorite subject is themselves.
But for many of us, listening is not easy, and it’s not natural.
Real listening means:
- Being genuinely interested
- Asking clarifying questions
- Commenting intelligently from time to time
- Maintaining eye contact about 80% of the time
- Most importantly, paying attention
Conversely, listening does NOT mean:
- Furiously thinking of the next thing you’re going to say
- Looking around the room, thinking about who you’re NOT talking to right now
- Turning the conversation where you want it to go
Don’t worry – they’ll get to you
By now, you might be wondering … OK, but the point of networking is making contacts. If I just listen, what’s the point?
Fear not – the conversation will come to you. Inevitably, except with the most conceited and solipsistic people, the question will be asked: “So, what do you do?”
That’s your opportunity. Not to dominate the conversation, and not to give a long-winded spiel about your new business venture. It’s your opportunity to give your 30-second elevator pitch. For instance, here’s mine:
I’m John Koetsier … by day I’m a product manager for an education company, and by night I’m a social media consultant – blogging, podcasting, etc. – helping companies figure out how social media can help with marketing, product development, and PR.
That’s it – no more. If someone’s interested, they’ll pick it up. Inevitably, if you’ve crafted a compelling enough elevator pitch, someone will say: “Cool. What does that mean?” Or some other question about social media (in my case; something different in yours).
That’s what I did last night, and that’s what worked – seven times. And I had a much better time than at most meet & greets.
The secret is actually to be interested in people and interested in what they do. This is so rare that people will want to talk to you and – amazingly – think that you are interesting.
After that, it’s all easy.
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