You can make your next networking event more than just an exhibition of repetitive questions or an extravagant celebration of small talk. This article shows you how.
Perhaps you don’t regard yourself as a talker (let alone a vivacious chatty person) who takes to networking events as a duck takes to water. Contrary to popular opinion, this could be an asset, an advantage you can employ to good effect at such events. People like talking about themselves, so they’ll naturally cozy up to anyone who encourages them to do so, and pays attention to them as well. Instead of being the talking party, why not be the listener, the one asking all the intelligent questions and leaving a positive impression on your potential contact?
But what kind of questions should you ask, asides the regulars (“how’s business?”, “what do you do?”). This is where the cookie crumbles for many people. They find that their conversations at these events hit dead ends all too often, and the experience turns out to be awkward and disappointing.
Here comes help. You can use the following questions at the next conference or meetup you attend, to snap up more leads and useful connections.
- How did you get to know about this event?
This looks like a simple preliminary question, but it can do more for you than you think. In the process of answering it, the person you’re talking with might reveal one or two useful insights into their network; they may know people that you’ve been wanting to do business with, for instance. If you’re perceptive, you could also glean a few things about them that’ll help you strike the right notes as you go further into the discussion.
- How did you get into your line of business?
This one casts the spotlight on your conversation partner- and it’s hard to reject this sort of invitation to talk. This sort of question, like every other, softly nudges us to share a bit of our life’s story, and enhances the likelihood that we will establish a bond with the person who asked.
There’s a chance that you and your contact could find similarities in your journeys. This commonality will feature high up on any list of reasons for establishing a (working) relationship with a fellow business person.
- What do you love about what you do?
This question carries with it a greater sense of genuine interest in the person to which it is posed, than the usual “what do you do?” It’s also a way of finding out several things about your contact at once. For example, you could learn interesting details about what that person’s work involves, and know what kind of values he or she considers important. Again, if you discover that you have certain things in common with them here, you could push the discussion in the direction of those commonalities (if the person you’re conversing with is willing to flow along).
- What (projects) are you working on at the moment?
This should help you get a sense of how the other person’s business is doing (without asking the more well known, easily evaded “how is business?”). There could be something in it for you, a new opportunity lurking in the answer to this question. Just be willing to probe, but try not to come off as intrusive.
- What kind of challenges are you facing?
This one works well when the talk has been going on fine, and for a while. If the person you’re chatting with reveals a challenge you can help deal with, let them know that you can assist them. If it’s an area of concern that falls directly within your line of business or expertise, you should offer your services. If it’s something that can be fixed by someone you know, refer them to that person. Whatever the case is, you should present yourself as a problem solver and a useful contact to have. This can open doors for you at any time.
- What can I do for you?
If the conversation doesn’t lead to your being in a position to offer your services. you could ask your contact if there’s anything you could possibly help them with. There’s no harm in trying, especially if the talking has gone on smoothly. This question expresses an eagerness to help. Most people would appreciate this, and many would gladly suggest things you could do for them.
Ikenna Nwachukwu holds a bachelor's degree in Economics from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He loves to look at the world through multiple lenses- economic, political, religious and philosophical- and to write about what he observes in a witty, yet reflective style.