It’s hard to believe but there are people who travel far and wide to networking events or conferences … and have no idea what to say when they arrive.
This quick post will outline several questions I use … and ones that I avoid like the plague because they’re terribly ineffective.
Quick note: my personal approach to networking is that it’s not about hunting, it’s about helping. It’s about farming and cultivating relationships.
(For more on this topic, listen to this podcast episode How To Make Networking Work.)Networking isn't about hunting, it's about helping.Click To Tweet
If that’s the approach you take to networking, then it makes sense to ask questions that generate genuine conversation.
Please, do everyone a favor (including yourself) and avoid these trite and tired “first-date” type questions:
- “So, tell me about yourself…”
- “What’s your story?”
- “Is there anything I can help you with?”
When people ask me these questions, my soul pulls a figurative Liz Lemon eye-roll and prays there’s still some gin in my glass so I can get through the next 94 seconds of verbal gymnastics.
Why do these questions suck?
Because most people will either 1. tell you their entire life story … or 2. answer with a counter-question: “Umm, what do you want to know, you super-awkward networking newbie?”
When you ask a question that’s answered with a question, you’ve killed the conversation.
Instead, ask these questions (I’m only going to give you three because you don’t need many more):
1. What’s giving you energy in life right now?
This question is intentionally open-ended. Your fellow conversationalist may discuss things from a professional standpoint, like a new project, client, or opportunity. Or they may talk about something personal, like a new exercise routine, family update, or their perspective on work-life balance. The important thing is that this question focuses the conversation on something positive and life-giving, which is what most successful entrepreneurs or business leaders focus on anyways.
2. What are you working on this year that’s really exciting you?
I use this question often in entrepreneurial settings because, well, it assumes the person is working on something. I once struck up a conversation with a lady who ran a hedge fund; she was excited about an investment opportunity in one of the world’s leading animation studios. While global investments aren’t my world, I learned a lot from her approach to business. Giving someone the chance to talk to a “kindred spirit” is a great gift, and one that can easily lead to more opportunities down the road.
3. What have you been reading lately?
Leaders are readers, and this is a great way to talk about what is influencing that person at the moment. It’s also a sure-fire way to build your own library, mine for common ground in the books or content you consume, and give the person an opportunity to talk about their own book if he or she is an author.
(Want a great resource for finding new business books? Check out my friend Jeff Brown’s Read to Lead Podcast. It’s gold.)
Next time you’re at a networking event, use these questions to start conversations that forge genuine relationships.