As the week begins, many of you are looking for a networking event to attend.

Some of you know exactly what you want – and that’s great!

Others of you have no idea what to expect – and that’s great too!

Many of you however, will walk out empty-handed – and that’s the worst part of it all.

YOU NEVER KNOW WHO YOU WILL MEET
Networking is an interesting experience. Lots of us hate it because it feels like a business card meat market. Some of these events are because they literally are about networking without any sense of familiarity. Folks bring their business cards, toss them at you thinking you want to buy something, and then move on.

It’s enough to leave you feeling violated.

Truth be told networking is all about context. The vast majority of people you meet may never in fact offer you what you need right then and there, but there are two contextual statements and a human quality that always hold true:

1) You never know where the relationship will develop to
2) You have no idea who the other person knows
3) Being curious will always take you further

The first two are really up to you. Sometimes people are really off, but most of the time they are there just like you, wondering what they will get out of it. You can choose to continue their interpretation or you can change the context:

1) What brings you here tonight?
2) How can I help you?
3) Is there anyone you’d like to meet? (Great especially once you’ve met some people already)

People want to know that you care about them. They want to know that you are paying attention about them too. The default context of networking is already one of ambivalence. Showing genuine (and I cannot emphasize that enough) interest is a real game changer in a super noisy world where everyone is stuck in their cell phones.

The last piece is entirely up to you and is all about the open-ended questions. Your obligation is to be present in the conversation, offering them the opportunity to share AND you the opportunity to think how you can help them. Remember – “You can have anything you want – you just have to help others get what they want too” (Zig Ziglar).

1) Tell me more about (their career field)…
2) Interesting – and what challenges exist in (this particular industry)…
3) Tell more about why (something concerns you)…

…and so on.

Remember, it’s all about context and paying attention. Everything, EVERYTHING that manifests in your life is a result of you paying attention to the context of your conversations.

THE CALL TO ACTION
At some point in the conversation, things will simmer down. Just because you’re done talking, don’t just walk away. It’s time to move on with class.

1) The Simple Thank You: “I enjoyed speaking with you and have some others I’d like to meet before the end of the night…”
– “Can I get your business card so we can stay connected?” (Consider the context of the conversation)
– “Have a great rest of the night” (If there really isn’t anything at all in common – and by the way, you’re all meeting off this list. None of the event folks should be hearing this line)
– “Let me know what else I can do for you” (If they stated a challenge)
– “I’ll see you on Albert’s List!” (The easiest)

2) The Invitation: “I heard everything you said tonight and think there are some great resources out there…”
– “Have you joined Albert’s List?” (Explain and show the group, then thank them in #1 or move to #3)
– “I’m a part of <some group> and you should check it out” (Explain and show them, then move onto #1 or #3)
– “I’m going to another event <in that area> and you should come along” (Explain, show, and exchange information. Now you’ve made a friend and helped ease someone)

3) The Call to Action: “I really enjoyed speaking with you and think there might be something here…”
– “Can we connect and follow up with a phone call some time this week or next?” (Then give your card or connect on LinkedIn)
“Are you available for coffee some time this week? I’d like to discuss this in greater detail” (Same as above)

IN THE END, IT’S ALL CONTEXT
If you’re a good listener, networking is natural. If not, networking is a tad bit more frazzling especially in a loud environment. If you feel overwhelmed, the easiest way to continue a conversation is to practice active listening.

1) “If I heard you correctly, did you say…”
2) “Just to reiterate, I understand you…”
3) “Interesting, so what you mean is…”

Ultimately if you need guidance, speak to one of the event organizers. None of you will be wallflowers tomorrow night and every one of you will meet at least several people.

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How to Master Any Networking Event

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