OK, I think we agree, networking is a great way to find a job or grow your business or just about anything having to do with other people. Further we know networking is all about relationships. Every relationship, no matter how profound, had it’s start when one person walked up to another and decided to break the ice.
This is where things get a little dicey for reluctant networkers. As soon as they consider such an act, they can hear their mom in the back of their heads saying “Never talk with strangers”.
So, how can you break the ice without feeling like you are about to fall into the icy depths?
- Act like a host. This is especially good if you’ve been to this particular event or one like it before. Look for the folks who appear lost. Walk up, say hello, and ask them if they’re new. If they are, you can offer to help them navigate the waters. If they are a veteran you can ask for their advice.
- Ask the organizers for help. Many of these mixers will have “greeters”. When you sign in or register, ask if someone is available to help you out. Of someone is, then they will quite often be able to connect you with the best networkers in the room. If you aren’t sure, call or email the organizers and ask.
- Ask open-ended questions about them. Bob Burg has some really good ones in his book “Endless Referrals“. Some of the ones that I like are the simple ones like “How did you get to where you are now?”, “What have been the big changes in your profession?” and “What advice would you give someone who would like to get into your line of work?” All of them place the focus squarely on the other person, where you want it.
- Something more fun. When you sign in, get two nametags. Put your name on the first. On the second put something that will make someone ask questions. I knew a guy who went to an event and put “Costa Rica” (his next vacation) on his nametag. He was surrounded for the rest of the evening by folks who wanted to know more.
- You can always ask something really bizarre (as long as you tell them it will be really bizarre). Scott Ginsberg has a list of 55 ice breakers that are just designed to help you talk as if you were both human beings. Some of my favorites are “What was your favorite breakfast cereal when you were a kid?” and “What was your favorite Saturday morning cartoon?”
Just remember, good networking is always about the other person. You want to find out who they are and make a first connection. You aren’t going to find a job or get a signed contract at the mixer. You goal is just to meet people with whom you can later develop a stronger relationship. When you do that, *they* will be the ones looking for the opportunities for you.