Today I attended the Matthews, NC Chamber of Commerce monthly luncheon. Though I’ve been networking with several other small business owners in the Charlotte and Matthews area, I did not know anyone when I walked into the giant conference room. I had that immediate moment of panic that most people feel when they walk into a large room, but quickly forced myself to overcome it and made some introductions to strangers.
In theory, networking sounds fun – typically you’re lured with food and drinks and the promise of meeting industry leaders. But the reality is – breaking through the barriers of knowing how to properly introduce yourself can feel paralyzing. Fortunately, I was in a very welcoming environment and immediately felt as ease as I made introductions over lunch.
After some announcements from the Matthews Chamber, Debby Millhouse from CEO Inc. was introduced as the guest speaker. As the Owner and President of a full service recruiting firm, Debby certainty has a wealth of knowledge about making connections.
Debby spoke about how to network with people beyond the typical “Hi, what’s your name and what do you do” questions. Through great humor and live examples with the audience, Debby demonstrated that networking goes well beyond job titles or company mission statements, and should be founded on building relationships.
Debby drew a diagram on the whiteboard and walked us through a simple process of items you should visualize when you meet a person for the first time.
1. Start with a house
Talking about where someone lives can be a great icebreaker. Instead of immediately jumping into your resume and credentials, ask people simple questions about where they live and why:
How long have you been living in Charlotte?
- What part of town do you live in?
- Have you tried (insert name of restaurant)?
Ahhh, conversation is flowing and now you’re getting a good idea of who this person is.
2. Visualize people in the house..and their shoes too
Everyone has a different story and a different walk of life, so it’s important to be personable when networking. Some simple questions to keep the conversation going are:
- What grades are your kids in?
- Is your family also from this area?
- Does your husband like the area as much as you do?
See, now you’re getting a better picture of who is important to them. Don’t they seem human now, just like you? Now, dig into the fun part…hobbies.
3. Imagine blue skies with endless possibilities:
Even a business owner needs to spend time away from the office, so be engaging with non-work related questions:
- Do you like to travel?
- Who’s your favorite sports team?
- If you had 3 hours of free time, how would you spend it?
Great, now you have something in common with them and you realize that this stranger is actually someone you might want to spend time with at some point. It’s time for your a-ha moment:
4: A flashing light bulb starts to go off
You realize that you’ve begun to build trust with this person, and chances are you have common interests or a similar background. Now it’s time to figure how you two can possible work together:
- What’s your ideal type of client or engagement?
- So, what makes your company different than your competitors?
- Where did you see the most growth in your company last year?
Finish the conversation with swapping business cards and when you’re back online, be sure to connect with them on LinkedIn. Take a few extra minutes and send a personalized message such as: “It was great to meet you at the Chamber lunch today. Let me know when you and your husband check out the (insert the restaurant, item, or area that you talked about in person) and let me know what you think of it”.
Lastly, remember that networking is about give and take. Don’t look at every person as something that can do something for you. Rather, think about the relationship that you can build with that person and how you can both connect each other with other people and businesses in the future.