Judy and I are journalists, so curiosity and questioning come naturally to us. This is why networking feels more like socializing. We meet people. We get interested in what they do, and the next thing you know, we are asking them to tell us more about their work.
When you network, whether it be at a professional association gathering, a business meeting with only a handful of colleagues or at a Chamber meet and greet, try to just be yourself and act natural.
Interact. Let your curiosity rise to the surface. Don’t be thinking about handing out your business card to everyone in the room or trying to familiarize everyone with your product or service. And don’t be nervous.
Focus on genuine interest and starting relationships. The rest will follow naturally.
Here are five questions to get you started as you mix and mingle:
- What’s your work? Seems basic, because it is. It also takes one back to college days, when conversations began with, “What’s your major?” But it’s the best first question there is when you are standing there at a business gathering with someone you’ve never met before. Invite them to tell you about themselves.
- How long have you been doing it? The answer to this question will give you some context on this new person. Are they brand new in their field? Or do they have 20 years under their belt?
- What inspired you to get started? Don’t let the conversation die after you learn the person is a real estate agent or a dog trainer or a massage therapist. Ask the question that allows them to tell you the story of how and why they got started. People love to talk about their passion; that’s why this is a favorite question for me. People are often so pleased to be asked about their motivation, and there is almost always a great story in their answer.
- What are the challenges in your industry? This question tells people something about you – that you understand there is always a big picture.
- “Tell me more about that.” Okay, this one isn’t really a question. It’s a great follow-up statement, though, and it demonstrates you are paying attention. It also allows you to learn more about one aspect of what your new colleague is talking to you about. When you’re listening, pay attention to what gets glossed over – “… after we put out our new health product” – and before they have a chance to move on, say, “Tell me more about that.” Maybe you’ll learn something that interests you personally!