[UPDATED 8/21/2012]

Getting together for a “one-to-one” with another person is a good way to start the “Relationship” step of the ART of Networking process.  Whether it’s a coffee, breakfast, or lunch, it’s just a good time to sit down and learn more about each other.  As an aside, I do not recommend trying to do a one-to-one at a networking event. The format of these events is not at all conducive to an earnest conversation.

So, the biggest challenge many people have is worrying about what to talk about.  Spending your entire lunch hour in a conversation about the weather with a stranger is a sure way to turn you off networking for good. It’s certainly not likely to develop the relationship any further.  So what should you talk about?

In a word, them.

To help out with that process, I’ve come up with an acronym to give you a variety of topics about your one-to-one partner.  It’s called INFER:

Interests: What do they like to do when they aren’t working?  If they have a family, this is a good time to take note of the family members and any special characteristics they might mention.
Networks: You may have met them at the Chamber networking lunch, but are they a member?  What other groups do they belong to?  Would they recommend them?
Focus: What are they working toward?  What are their personal/business goals?
Epic Journey: How did they get to where they are today?  What awards or accomplishments are they proud of?
Relationships: Is there something you can do to help their family or close friends? If you can, then you become family. Be careful, though, this is probably the most powerful information and the one that most people want to protect until they get to know you better.

Now you have a tool that you can use to help direct the conversation. Please remember though, this is only a tool.  It is not a form to be filled out.  Let the conversation flow naturally.

One-to-one’s are a great way to start developing a deeper networking relationship with someone.  Following the INFER guidelines can help you find ways of helping each other which will further develop the relationship — eventually to the level of “Trust”.