The thought of actually attending a networking event fills many people with dread. After all, you are basically putting yourself in a place where you will be talking with strangers — in direct contradiction to the instructions your mother gave you from the time you were three. So how can we take some of the pressure off?
How about we practice when it doesn’t matter?
Of course, it always matters, but somehow it feels like it matters more when you are at an event. In order to get past that, take every opportunity to talk with other people when the stress levels are lower. When could that be? How about starting with simple situations such as talking with the cashier at the grocery store or the salesperson who helps you pick out that nice new outfit? How about the person who waits on you at lunch? You are already communicating with them. Now you can just make it a little more personal.
Some easy questions you might ask:
- How are you doing today? Yeah, not exactly original, but you have to start somewhere. Also, you should be asking to show that you really care, not just the perfunctory query that most people use.
- How has business been? Is that normal for this time of day? Let them be an expert.
- How long have you worked here? What’s the best thing about working here? Let them tell their story.
- If in a restaurant, What’s your favorite dish on the menu? Why? Again, they get to be the expert.
- Do you have any fun plans for the weekend/holiday? Most people love to talk about their recreation/family and this is a good way to bring that out.
You’ll be amazed at some of the conversations you’ll have. One young cashier I spoke with told me that she was currently in college studying international relations with a goal of eventually working in the State Department or possibly even becoming the Secretary of State. Wow! I’d bet that you can find some equally fascinating stories out there.
Now, not every person you talk with is going to be receptive. One or two will just want you just to be quiet so they can get their jobs done and get you sent along your way. In general, though, I’ve noticed that most folks are smiling before I leave. After all, how many people treat them as human beings?
I use #5 & #3 a lot with the folks I work with, particularly since I work with transient folks. #1 is the most common for stranger greetings with #4 and #2 following in use. I've never used them opposite (like asking the server how long they've worked there, etc) – great suggestion!
I'm sure there are other good questions to ask in these situations. One of the things I used to do was to ask what the best thing that had happened to them in the last week was. I certainly would get a lot of interesting answers!