Aside from being a dreaded and forced activity for many lawyers and professionals, networking can be down right terrifying for those who struggle to figure out exactly the “right” thing to say to a new acquaintance.
There are many ice breaker techniques which may come in handy the next time you find yourself in a professional networking situation.
Lawyers and professionals often grapple with how to begin a conversation with folks who they do not know. What would they possibly have to chat about? Where do I begin? The question frequently is: how do I become a better conversationalist and keep a conversation going to cultivate build a mutually beneficial relationship?
Outlined below is one technique I have used a number of times and which has been effective when I have entered a room full of people who I don’t know.
After introducing yourself, remember to ask your networking partner to answer these questions before moving forward. Whether you meet folks online, face to face, or over the phone, these questions can be very helpful.
- What do you do?
- How long have you done it?
- What did you do previously?
No brainer, right? These questions can be very effective because the answers so often can lead to other questions. And, everyone has an answer. Notice that the questions are what is referred to as “open-ended” questions, for which there is no “yes” or “no” answer.
Using these questions is an effective way to compel another person to speak about him/herself. It’s your task to listening intently for signals and clues for asking follow-up questions which may enlighten you to a possible business “need” or other way you can parlay the encounter into a new business relationship.
Beginning with the premise that all people like to talk about themselves, make sure you listen intently. Use effective non-verbal communication behavior and lean in as they are speaking to you. This action demonstrates you are interested to learn what this person is saying.
Once you are comfortable with using ice breakers, your conversations will become like a tennis match…you bounce one ball over, your speaking partner bounces another one back…and so it goes. So often after the initial ice breaking period, the conversation will open up to broader more substantive topics and can be quite fun.
No Comment, Ma’am
Another icebreaker technique to consider in addition to asking thought-provoking open-ended questions which lead to more and deeper exchange is effectively using comments. There are four basic types of comments that usually produce more information to discuss.
• Expanding: “Tell me more; it sounds as if you had a great time.”
• Self-revealing: “I know what you mean. I was in a similar situation last year.”
• Comparing: “That sounds similar to…”
• Clarifying: “What exactly did he do?”
Try these out at your next networking event and see how much easier making conversation can become.
Inquiring Minds Must Know
Not sure how to start a conversation? Think of your conversation-starter as a friendly, informal interview. “So, what brings you here this evening?” is fine. Keep your focus on your conversation partner and additional questions should come to mind. “Are you originally from here?” If the answer is no, you just found a whole new line of questioning and learning possibilities.
Even if you begin with “what do you do?” you can actually spend considerable time learning about your acquaintance’s work background, life story, favorite interests outside of work, favorite places to travel, and so on. If a conversational spark develops, you need to be paying attention so you can follow it wherever it leads.
Asking questions about a person and his/her interests is a great way to learn new things and to build rapport. If you don’t know a thing about fly fishing, don’t be afraid to ask ‘stupid’ questions of the sportsman standing next to you at the cocktail bar. Most people are usually more than happy to share.
Asking questions of new acquaintances is an effective way to get to know them. “I’m afraid I don’t know a thing about [your profession] – can you tell me how it works?” is a great all-purpose question when you are out of your depth.
Be open to raising non-business topics as well. Have fun with it. Look for signs or clues to what may interest your speaking partner. For example, notice what he or she is wearing. If a woman is wearing an attractive pin, comment, “oh what a lovely pin you have on.” This may open the door for this woman to describe she won the jewelry piece in a raffle for her favorite charity. If you continue asking interesting, open-ended questions, by the end of the evening, you could learn that her husband is the senior counsel for a large company in your area and the charity event is their top community support activity.
The point here is, one can not predict how doors will open and business opportunities will develop if you are not practicing the art of effective networking.