Are you comfortable walking up to other people and starting a conversation? When you are engaged in a conversation, do you feel like you're saying the wrong things or don't know how to keep the conversation going?
Business networking can be a hard and daunting task for some, and easy and enjoyable for others. When attending business networking events, sparking up a conversation is just one of the many things you can do to shine at events. Here are some etiquette tips to help you rise to the top at your next networking affair.
Starting a Conversation
Initiate a conversation with “small talk.” Discussing the event, weather, current issues, or a sincere compliment are all examples of small talk. “Hello, I'm Tina Hayes, and I'm with The School of Etiquette. I'm enjoying the event, how is your experience so far?”
Another way to begin a conversation is by telling the person your unique traits, followed by a question or interest. “Hi, my name is Indigo Silva. I am a college student, majoring in communications. I have a passion for producing and I would like to learn more about your company's mentorship program for college students.”
This type of conversation is considered a shorter version of an elevator speech; it gives the person you are speaking with a concrete description of you.
Knowing some interesting and new tidbits about what's happening in your community or industry will keep you from being a conversational bore; and make sure you stay abreast of current issues so you can make effective small talk.
Business Networking Strategies
Be prepared to present your Elevator Speech. The elevator speech is all about you. You are trying to sell your best qualities so that someone takes an interest in you. When trying to figure out what to say in your elevator speech, think of descriptive verbs or strong adjectives that capture who you are.
Have people close to you tell you why they value you and use those insights in your writing. Make all that is considered great about you come to light. Also, think about what you want to obtain from the specific networking event or how you can help others, and be sure to add that into your speech as well.
Have a game plan. Consider why you are attending the event: What do you want to accomplish. Don't just show up thinking, “I'm here, now what?” Brief yourself on who you want to mingle with at the event, practice your introduction and prepare a few conversation starters, as well as conversation enders, so that you can move easily into and out of discussions.
Dress appropriately for the occasion. Some events outline the dress code. If not, dress business professional (i.e. suit, nice slacks and shirt).
Be equipped. Bring an updated business card (you can inexpensively order these from sites such as Vistaprint.com). If you don't have business cards, keep a pen and paper handy to jot down contact information or share yours.
Be confident and have a positive attitude. Remember, your body language speaks louder than words.
Extend proper handshakes. Handshakes are often overlooked, but they are one of the most important forms of nonverbal communication. When shaking hands always make sure you give a firm grip, look directly into the person's eyes, smile, and say something nice such as “Nice to make your acquaintance.”
When shaking hands always provide your basic personal introduction, which includes your first and last name, and a little more information about yourself. Include information such as your occupation, company or where you're from. You should always take the time to shake hands with someone you see that is not mingling with others.
Remember names. When talking with a person, always refer to them by their name; not only is it proper, it will help you remember it later. When you receive a business card, jot down notes on the card such as the date, where you met the person, and something you want to remember about the conversation. This helps when you later review the cards.
Once engaged in a conversation, listen actively; don't let your mind wander. Let people know you are listening through eye contact and body language. Make comments and follow up with questions, “that's interesting, tell me more.” Don't fold your arms in front of you; it makes you appear closed off.
Ask open-ended questions (questions that cannot be answered with a simple yes or no). An example, “Tell me about your role here.” or “How did you become involved with our group?”
Be cognizant and judge how your listener reacts when you're talking. Are you boring them or do they want to hear more? This will help you steer the conversation in the right direction or end it, if necessary.
Finally, do not go to business networking events just to eat or drink. It is best to eat a snack before a networking event to curtail your hunger and allow you to focus on business.