Has your inbox been filling with invitations to benefits, galas and conferences? The last few months of the year are usually full of events, and many people use them as opportunities for networking.
The tradition of networking at events usually involves asking the other person “What do you do?”, exchanging business cards, and possibly following up later on LinkedIn. Networking is transactional – most people are looking to get something out of the interaction. But the real definition of success for these types of events should be the number of meaningful connections you made, not the number of people you collected cards from.
Connection allows for the exchange of ideas, not just information, and inspires creativity. Meaningful connections lead to relationships that encourage collaboration, contribute to the community in your industry, and open new possibilities. What if you shifted your approach to connecting instead of just card collecting at your next event?
Real connections begin with curiosity:
• Be a Person of Interest. You become a person of interest by being authentic, being well-read, having thoughtful positions on a variety of topics, and being genuinely interested in other people and ideas.
• Change your focus. Everybody has a story. How much more intriguing could an event be if you made it your goal to find out something unique about each person you interact with?
• Avoid the obvious. Recently a friend shared the most fabulous redirect question to use during the traditional networking event. When someone asks what you do, say “I’d be happy to answer that, but I have a really important question I’d like to ask you first.” Proceed to ask, “What is the most challenging thing you’ve experienced this past _____ (week, day, month, you decide the time frame.)” Once they’ve answered, follow up with, “What did you do about that?” This changes the nature of the conversation and allows you to make a deeper connection.
• Ask an unusual question. You’ll have a much more memorable conversation if you ask something that disarms the other person a bit. “Tell me something that no one else here knows about you yet” can reveal hobbies, favorites and amusing anecdotes. “What’s the best book you’ve read lately” can spark a great discussion, and you may even get an excellent recommendation to add to your reading list!
• “Tell me more” is a great invitation in some situations, but it can also be a little intimidating. A specific question that relates to something the person has said is more effective (and also communicates that you are listening!). For example, if someone mentions she travels a lot for work you can ask about her favorite airports, any tips she has for long international flights, or the best customer service she’s experienced in her travels.
• Follow up. Connections are built into relationships over time. If you offered to do anything while you were talking (send a link, contact someone else, set up a meeting, etc.) be sure you follow through and do it. Keep notes on each person you interacted with. Build on the connection by sending a quick note, email or link if you come across something he or she might enjoy or benefit from based on your conversation.
Cultivating your curiosity and being prepared with interesting questions to ask can make all the difference between a formal interaction and a fascinating conversation that creates connection. Networking is important, but it needs to be reframed as connecting with purpose. There are benefits to having meaningful connections in your life. When you are a person of interest and you ask great questions, you will build relationships that open doors in your life and your career.