You want to expand your network. You meet a lot of people, but it never seems to go anywhere. How can you successfully turn a stranger into a useful networking contact? Here are some steps that may help:
1. Smile and break the ice. Give them a warm smile and say something to break the ice. It can be something specifically related to the situation in which you are meeting, (For example: “The keynote speaker made some interesting points about online marketing.”) Or, it can be a general comment, (For example: “Can you believe that summer is almost over?!”) It doesn’t really matter what you say. Just keep it positive and friendly.
2. Learn about them. People love to talk about themselves and they are naturally attracted to people who are interested in them. Be curious. Ask about their career and their interests. Learn about their personality. This will also help you to identify what you have in common. Just make sure that your questions are within the natural flow of conversation, and that you aren’t making them feel uncomfortable.
3. Tell them about yourself. Give them the opportunity to get to know you. Tell them about your background and career goals. Don’t give them a static speech- be genuine and let your personality shine through.
4. Find common ground. Try to determine what you have in common with this person. Did you go to the same school? Are you working in the same field? Do you share a hobby? You will have at least one thing in common with most people, you just have to find it.
5. Take the next step. Would you like to spend more time getting to know this person, or perhaps try to make them a part of your network? Now it is time to close the deal. The next step that you should take will depend on the quality and the nature of the connection. If you have made a deep connection with the person, you could invite them out for a coffee to talk further. If you don’t feel comfortable inviting them out, you could ask them if they are on LinkedIn, or ask for their email address so that you can keep in touch. It is important that you do take this step, or else your networking efforts will not go very far.
Remember, you are not going to make a connection with every person that you meet. A skilled networker focuses on the quality of their contacts, rather than the quantity. Make genuine connections and take care of the people in your network, and your efforts will pay dividends.
(Written by: Karen Bivand)