Have you ever been to a networking event and then felt like you want your 2 hours back because you didn't make any meaningful connections? Well, I'm here to tell you how to make meaningful connections. First, realize that no one really cares what your name is.
No, they are not horrible people, it's just that people are often more engaged by what you have to say after you exchange names. What will they remember about you? Well, that's really up to you!
Here's a few tips you can implement right away to create more opportunities for meaningful connections:
- Forget how the person you are talking to can be 'useful' to you. We miss out on a lot of interesting people once we carry this mindset into a conversation. Once they say their name and who they work for some people immediately lose interest because there is no direct benefit; this is unfortunate, because magical collaborations happen from cross-industry opportunities. Most people lack the vision and open mind to realize opportunity is everywhere and we should be open to all kinds of ideas and people.
- Listen. I am guilty of not listening in some conversations because I am so eager to get my next brilliant point on the table. I may have missed an important point that could be helpful to me to develop a more thorough idea by not listening, and most of us are prone to this 'networking error' as well. If you are really scared you will forget, simply write down your idea on a napkin, to be revisited later in the conversation so you can direct 100% of your attention to the person.
- Ask Thoughtful Questions. There are more than a few questions I can think of that I am tired of answering, top of the list would include "what do you do?" Try asking questions that don't make it seem like the person is defined by their job. Even something like "what brings you here [to this event]?" can start your conversation on a slightly more interesting note than the rehearsed response to "what do you do?"
A few more examples:
At an art gallery: "Which piece is most memorable for you?"
At a trade show: "Which speaker stood out the most to you? How come?"
At a social gathering: "Let me show you this awesome cocktail recipe I learned the other day."
You see how all those questions can begin more colourful conversations than 'what do you do?' The start of a conversation and where it goes is defined by YOU.
- Give First. Most people are there to take, without considering what they have contributed. So before you ask for something, make sure you add value first. Just because I asked you to stop judging others based on their value add to you, it doesn't mean they aren't evaluating your value add. Make yourself useful.
I prefer the term 'relationship building' versus 'networking', because the strength of your network is really the strength of the relationships within it. If you have a HUGE network of 50,000 on your LinkedIn but none of them really know you, what you do, what your strengths are then it is a pretty useless yet big network. If you practice the 4 tips above then I guarantee you will see more meaningful relationships blossom from your time spent 'networking'.