Aside from the nervousness that comes from having to talk to complete strangers, most people don’t realize the true reason why they loathe networking.
It’s about not the early meeting times for many of these events.
It’s also not about trying to be cheerful or overly perky.
And it’s not the pressure of trying to meet valuable contacts.
The real reason so many people hate networking is simple: They are afraid that they won’t have anything meaningful to say.
You never know who you are going to meet at these events, or what you will talk about. Topics can range from how the local sports team is discussing how the latest technology is impacting your industry sector.
We all hate feeling stupid… and a lot of times, we can feel that way when we meet someone else who does all the talking… while we are thinking to ourselves: “What on earth do I say in return?”
Believe it or not, no one is an expert at everything, despite appearances to the contrary during networking or business meetings.
But the biggest thing you can do to become a savvy conversationalist is to beef up on your arsenal of topics that you have some knowledge about.
Here are 5 tips to build your range of conversational topics:
1. Read business journals / publications. General business publications have a wealth of information and data, and can provide you with enough tidbits to be a generalist in pretty much anything if you pay attention to the articles. It’s truly amazing to see how many times you can reference an article that you read in a conversation!
2. Keep up on local sports. It’s tired… and it’s clichéd… but chances are that someone in that meeting or business networking event is going to be a sports fan. If you can use some opening comment about a local team’s performance as an icebreaker, this can help you move on to other topics you feel more knowledgeable or comfortable about later in the conversation.
3. Pore through industry publications. If this an industry networking event, scour industry publications for new ideas, and then use those as openers to solicit the opinion of the person you are talking to… you never know what their take might be, and chances are, they likely are more than willing to share their ideas.
4. Ask the other person in the conversation about something. Too many times, in an attempt to try and fit into the conversation (faking it), we go along, perhaps nodding our ahead or grunting in affirmation… right up until the part where someone directly asks us what we think… and then there’s that “deer in the headlights” moment when you realize you are going to have to reveal that you really don’t know what they are talking about. Instead, transform your lack of knowledge into a question right at the beginning to get the other person talking. Example: “Ted- I meant to ask you about that –can you explain this to me a little more so I can wrap my brain around it?” The person who is doing the talking feels honored that you asked for their expertise.
5. Transform thought leadership into conversations. People like Seth Godin and Guy Kawasaki are just a few of the vaunted thought leaders who tackle a wide range of topics and challenge conventional thinking. If you can “stretch” your envelope and ask a thought provoking question that can stir a debate, this can quickly engage people around you at a networking event and build the conversation.
Everyone has ideas and thoughts which are valuable. But when you let fear overrule your ability to interact with others, your voice is silenced and no one can ever find out what you have to offer… or how you can help them.
Photo By Mike Morbeck (Flickr: Skirmish) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons