One of the common experiences you’ll be asked to do when you start working is networking. In a nutshell, networking in business is interacting with people who could potentially add value to your business or to the work that you do.
People meet through common business friends, or sometimes sit-down dinners are hosted to introduce specific people to each other. But oftentimes, businesses and enterprises send representatives to big events—where they know nobody—to network their way into what they hope to be the next big deal.
This could be a terrifying idea for fresh grads who have no experience talking to a bunch of strangers—let alone people who they feel are way out of their league! But don’t worry, it’s not as scary as it seems.
In fact, small talk could even be fun!
Debunking “Small talk”
The purpose of small talk is to break the ice and find a way to bridge the disconnect. Then you go from strangers to acquaintances. The thing is, people often find it awkward to meet new people and talk their way through business conferences. Simply because all these small talk topics can drive you crazy!
“What do you do?”
“Where did you graduate from?”
“What brings you here?”
Most of these questions can be exhausting and downright excruciating to ask, let alone to answer again and again Which brings us back to basic human nature: People are innately social beings. Though we like connecting with people, it’s difficult to foster connection when people don’t ask the right questions.
In 2017, Kalina Silverman tells a TED Talk audience about the idea of skipping the small talk and making Big Talk instead. Big talk is all about asking questions that actually matter. Not only does it break the ice, but it also allows people to know each other on a deeper level.
Ask Questions That Matter:
Make them universal.
This means formulating questions that anyone can easily understand and answer because of universal experiences.
I.e: “What to you is the best day ever?”
This question bounces off of happiness, a feeling we all have experienced and want to experience. Asking about something light-hearted and universal breaks that awkward tension brought about by being unacquainted.
Make them meaningful
Asking meaningful questions means encouraging people to think back through their experiences to come up with an answer. If the questions you ask are the same questions everyone asks, then it’s likely that they already have a prepared or practiced answer for it.
I.e: “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?”
The beauty of this question is in its depth. As cliche as this sounds, it’s something that makes people apply forethought. Giving them an opportunity to get to know themselves better and share that with you builds a connection that goes beyond the usual “nice to know you.”
Make them open-ended
By asking open-ended questions, you open a dialogue through storytelling. People like talking about themselves and their experiences because it makes them feel important and understood. People tend to gravitate towards people who listen and mean well. Asking open-ended questions do exactly that!
I.e: What experience would you say changed your life?
Keeping it open-ended assures a response as there is no right or wrong answer. It also allows momentum to grow in the conversation. This lets the both of you hear stories from each other and organically find points that connect.
It’s important to ask questions that matter even in networking because, at the end of the day, we are dealing with people—both in business and in life. And as social beings, we choose to connect with people we feel we can trust. No matter how smart you are or how great your product is, if the person you’re talking to doesn’t feel like they can connect with or trust you, working on a deal with them is going to be an uphill battle.
Preparing To Network:
Coming up with questions that matter is a big chunk of networking but still, it pays to be prepared. Here are a few hacks to keep in mind!
Know The People You Want To Meet
Like anything, it helps to know what you’re looking for. If there’s a specific person you’d like to meet, do a bit of research about them and their interests. If not, then make a mental note of the kind of people you’d like to get to meet.
Are you looking for investors? Are you looking to recruit? Are you looking for corporate partners? Whatever it is, make sure you’ve got that figured out before you show up!
Keep An Open Mind
While networking events are for meeting people in various industries, make sure to keep it light! After all, it’s an event where people are meant to interact and have fun. Don’t layout your whole pitch and proposal to every person you’ll meet.
Focus on getting to know the people and have an open mind on how you can collaborate later on.
Good energy is always good! People like surrounding themselves with people who make them feel good and put them in a good headspace. Having that upbeat energy is a sure way to at least get a foot in the door and start a conversation.
Sure, you’ll cross paths with people who might roll their eyes at you or not be in the mood to interact. Still, it’s always better to take the higher road and be the kinder person. After all, the way people act or react is a reflection of them not of you. So don’t let anyone bring down your positive vibe. Smile your way through any situation!
Whether you’re showing up at an event where you know nobody at all or are being set up to meet a high-valued business partner, remember: They are people before they are businessmen and businesswomen. If you’re a business major and you want to know what are for you, check out this blog and tell us what you think!