You’re attending a conference, when that horrible moment you’ve been dreading for the past week arrives: the networking coffee break.
Does the thought of it make your stomach somersault? Would you rather sit in a corner thumbing through your email?
I used to dread the networking breaks. I would disappear for extended toilet breaks, or suddenly there was a really important call I had to make, so I would excuse myself and hang around outside on my own. Or I stood on my own drinking coffee and reading emails.
When I read this Linkedin post providing small talk tips, I nodded in agreement with a little smile on my face. I’ve used some of these tips to overcome my networking phobia. Here are my favorites:
- Ask about something relevant to the occasion: “what brings you here?” or “what do you hope to get out of this event?”
- Comment on a topic of general interest: I scan the news the day before the event for ideas
- Ask questions people can answer how they please: the example given is “what’s keeping you busy”, also a question I like to ask
- Ask open-ended questions that don’t elicit single-word answers
- Ask getting-to-know-you questions like which media they consume. I once asked, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” Everyone responded enthusiastically. You can’t just blurt that one out though; you have to get a feel for the crowd.
- Talk about their favorite topic instead of your own. Better still, find a topic of mutual interest.
Here’s a tip that helped me enormously: I avoid the morning pre-conference networking period, choosing instead to arrive on time for the first session. During the first break I asked people, “What did you think of that talk/ presentation?”
Everyone has an opinion and they like to be heard. Before you know it, people will gather around you. If you become a discussion facilitator, getting others to talk, it takes the pressure off you. Like I said, people absolutely love talking about themselves. And the funny thing is, people walk away thinking, “they were easy to talk to.”
People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel – Maya Angelou
So don’t be afraid. Get out there,and get people talking about their favorite topic: them!