Andy Lopata, Guest Author
I recently asked people on various social networks what topics they would like me to cover in this series. One of the most popular areas was who to approach at events, how to do so and how to get into groups.
Here are five ways to approach people at networking events and get the conversation started.
ONE: The Lone Ranger
I work on the simple principle that people don’t go to networking events for solitude. Look for people standing on their own, often around the sides of the room (people don’t tend to stand on their own in the middle of a crowd of people) with heads buried in their Blackberry or the evening paper.
Approach them and ask if you can join them. Most people will be grateful and appreciate your approach. Please, just don’t leave them on their own again when you’ve finished your conversation.
TWO: Read body language
When people are speaking in pairs or groups there is a lot to learn from their body language. People will either be facing each other or at slightly open angles. The simple rule of thumb is whether you can easily approach their group without forcing them to change their stance to accommodate you.
If you see people talking to each other using strong eye contact, lots of hand movement and clearly involved in the conversation, that should act as a strong clue to hang back and look for other people to approach.
THREE: Stop, look, listen
There can be little more frustrating at a networking event than someone coming along when you are mid flow and asking if they can join you. The conversation tends to stop at that point as people introduce themselves to the new arrival and ask about them. All of a sudden your point has been forgotten and the focus has shifted.
If you approach a group in mid conversation, join them quietly, listen to their conversation and wait either until they invite you to join them or there is a suitable pause. If neither occur you can quietly move away in the knowledge that the timing was wrong. You can always go back at a later stage.
When you join the conversation above keep the focus on the people already in the group rather than shifting it to you. When the appropriate pause comes, if possible introduce yourself with a question based on what the last person has just been saying.
The only exception would be if the conversation has reached a natural conclusion. In such cases your arrival has given the excuse for people to shift focus and for others to leave the group.
FIVE: Ice breakers
Please avoid opening any conversation with the immortal words ‘What do you do?’. Apart from the fact that the wrong answer can kill a conversation stone dead, if the group has just been covering that ground you will be leading them back to a conversation they have just moved on from.
As suggested above, ask questions about their current topic of conversation if possible. Failing that, discuss the event you are at. You know that’s the one thing you share in common (other than weather and travel to/from the venue!). What did they think of the speaker? What brought them there? What have they gained from being there?
Copyright © 2013 – Andy Lopata. Reprinted with permission. Labeled “Mr Network” by The Sun, Andy Lopata was called “one of Europe’s leading business networking strategists” by the Financial Times. The co-author of two books on networking, Andy is a featured columnist the US magazine “The National Networker,” as well as being regularly quoted in the national press. Previously, Andy was Managing Director of UK network Business Referral Exchange. Andy has since worked with companies from one-man bands to organisations such as NatWest Bank, Merrill Lynch and Mastercard to help them realise the full potential from their networking. He is a former vice-president of the Professional Speakers Association. Visit Andy’s Website and BLOG.
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