23 January 2024

Advice for the nervous networker

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Group of business people standing in hall, smiling and talking together

To make your conversations meaningful, don’t talk about something trivial, like the weather. Photo: iStock/Caiaimage/Sam Edwards.

Networking events can be a trial, especially if you don’t know anyone in the room. May Busch suggests ways to start a conversation — and manage it once it gets going.

When you go to a networking event, do you try to meet as many people as you can or have deep conversations with just a few?

Ideally, you want to meet a broad cross-section of the people at your event, but you can’t have a deep conversation with all of them — that’s an impossible task. It’s about going broad to go deep.

”Going broad” means getting to know more than just a handful of people. This helps you work out who to have a deeper conversation with.
Going deeper, you don’t need to cover every last point at that first encounter; you’re just seeing whether the two of you have something in common that’s worth exploring further as a follow-up.

It’s like surfing the top of the waves so you travel across the water. To make your ”go broad” conversations meaningful, don’t talk about something trivial, like the weather. Instead, start with a conversation opener that allows you to learn something useful about the other person without getting too personal.

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At a recent event I attended, author Dorie Clark shared a list of conversation openers.

My favourite is: “What’s the most interesting thing you’re working on right now?” This immediately gets someone talking about what they do that’s exciting and energising them. It then gives you openings in several directions — whether that’s choosing to go deeper, sharing your answer to that same question, or moving on to meet someone else.

If you find there’s little in common, there’s still the benefit of knowing enough about each other to make an introduction to someone else you meet at the event. Connecting people in your network adds so much value and makes you someone others appreciate knowing.

What’s your favourite conversation starter?

May Busch’s mission is to help leaders and their organisations achieve their full potential. She works with smart entrepreneurs and top management to build their businesses. She can be contacted at [email protected]. This article first appeared on May’s blogsite.

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