This is strange but true.
I am happy to interview a business leader in front of an audience of 200 people. But put me in a room where I have to network face-to-face and – horror of horrors – sell my skills… Well, then, it’s time to skedaddle.
At least, that’s how I used to feel when I first set up my company. But then I learned that selling isn’t the point of networking.
Pregnant pause panic?
Maybe my broadcasting background is also to blame. Putting aside my misplaced expectations about closing deals, I was also worried about dead air. You know, that uncomfortable moment when the conversation grinds to a halt, and you find yourself studiously examining the crumbs on your plate. Who would have thought that a floret of broccoli could be so fascinating?
And in broadcasting terms, dead air is a no-no. Having a spare record / trail / interview in case a guest fails to turn up or a studio line goes down was drilled into us at the BBC. No wonder I found myself gabbling a lot about brassicas at networking events.
Receive or transmit?
Once I realised that the real point of networking was making connections and striking up a rapport, I started to listen.
I fell back on my journalistic roots, asking open questions. What, why, who, where, how and when. Questions that gave my companions the chance to tell me intriguing things about their business journeys and their sector.
- How / why / where did you start your business?
- Who / what inspired you?
- How long have you been doing it?
- Which bits have you found most rewarding? Why?
- Which parts are you most proud of?
- What tips would you give someone entering your sector?
After about 10 minutes, the conversation flows naturally. I respond in kind, talking about how I’ve begun and what gives me a kick about my work. No selling, just enthusiasm – a good starting point for any business relationship.
Open questions work because they:
- Take the spotlight away from you. Ideal if you’re nervous.
- Prove you’re a good listener. People will remember you for it.
- Give you the chance to learn more about other businesses in your world – their interests, challenges, aspirations. Useful for referrals and leads.
Before you know it, you’re enjoying yourself and no longer pushing that hapless piece of broccoli around your plate.
Homepage image by Vervate www.vervate.com.