It sometimes seems like there are two types of people in this world: those who love networking events and those who dread them. If you find yourself in the latter camp, know you are not alone! There are many who see networking events as the business equivalent of a painful but necessary visit to the dentist’s office. Rather than spend your next networking event glowering at the extrovert who has already scored more business cards than can be held in one hand, exude confidence and make connections by following these important,anxiety-reducing rules for small talk.
One of the most important parts of making good small talk is being able to relax, and preparing ahead of time can help with that. Many networking events provide lists of people who will beat tending. Do you know anyone from a previous event? Build confidence by talking to that person first. They may even be able to introduce you to someone else, thus eliminating the need to approach a new face. Alternatively, is there someone at the event who could be an important contact for you? Do some research on their company and their background before the event so you can ask meaningful questions when you do get the chance to meet them.
Another way to help calm anxiety ahead of time is to wear something comfortable that makes you feel confident. Do not try to break in a new pair of shoes during an event. This will just make you distracted by the pain for the entire evening. Likewise, do no wear something that is three sizes two big and wrinkled. You will feel self-conscious immediately. Additionally, clothing can serve as a simple ice breaker and a way to make you stand out from the crowd.Wearing a unique (but not distracting) tie or a pair of seasonal earrings can help you to make a memorable but professional impression.
Sometimes it seems like the easiest way to deal with an uncomfortable situation is to bury your head in your phone. Resist the temptation! This will make you look unprofessional and unapproachable. Keep your phone in your pocket unless you are putting a new contact into your phone.
Instead, look around you. Smile when you pass by another person and make eye contact. If you achieve eye contact, introduce yourself and state your company name. Remember that no tall communication is verbal, and an open posture can help. Do not fold your arms over your chest or look down or away from everyone. Grab a plate of horsd’oeuvres, if available, so that you have something to do with your hands.Alternatively, you can bring a small notebook and a pen and carry that around.These non-verbal signs make you more approachable and more likely to meet new people.
Once a conversation has started, many people feel a strong pressure to have something intelligent to say. Alleviate this pressure by asking open-ended questions. Using this tactic, you don’t have to talk as much, you learn more,and it will greatly improve the contacts’ opinion of you. Everyone likes to talk about themselves, and your new contact will feel like they have made a deeper connection with you because they were able to talk. While the other person is talking, listen actively so that you can ask more meaningful questions and do not make a silly mistake with your responses. For instance, it sounds bad if the person you are talking to previously mentioned they had been with their company for a decade, and a few minutes later you ask them when they joined their company.
Once a conversation begins, it is easy to ask open-ended questions to keep it going. For instance. “tell me more about that,” “what happened after that,” and“how did you react,” are all great questions for times when there is a pause in the conversation. On the other hand, it is sometimes more difficult to figure out a good question to get the other person started. Prepare these questions ahead of time so that you are not fumbling for a question when put on the spot.Good go-tos include: Tell me about your company, what do you love about your business? How did you become involved/why did you start your company? How long have you been in the DC area (or whichever area)? Why did you come to this event? These questions will often give you opportunities to ask more questions. For example,the contact could say that they have lived in DC for six years. Ask what brought them to the area, how they like it, where they came from, etc. Avoid turning the conversation back to you by saying “I just moved here last year.”Only do so if the contact asks. Again, this keeps the pressure off of you and actually helps you to make a deeper connection with the other person.
People can tell when you are not being authentic. If you are stiff and pretending to be someone that you are not, it will be incredibly obvious. It’s okay to be yourself. Small quirks can make for good conversation and help you to stand out in a good way. You also do not have to feel like you have to fit a certain mold in order to make conversation. Not all entrepreneurs are alike.Alley contains a diverse group of people, and it is likely that the contacts at your networking event will come from many different backgrounds and contain many different personalities as well.
No one said you have to like small talk, but it doesn’t have to cause you anxiety! Ace your next networking event by preparing ahead of time and being approachable. When you talk to someone, ask prepared (but not overly rehearsed), open-ended questions. This will take a lot of the pressure off of you. Most importantly, be yourself! It will be obvious if you are not, and it will help to make the evening much more bearable.
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