This is bad networking advice but you hear it from “experts” all the time.
Happy New Year! Have you made a resolution to get out there and start networking? Meet new people? Expand your pool of connections? This is great. Making new friends is always a great idea.
The world is a networking opportunity
By now you, of course, know that networking can be done anywhere and is not limited to events designated as “networking events.” Any place where people are is a networking opportunity. All you have to do is take advantage of it. Be likeable, be interesting, be a good conversationalist. You should also know that a lot of networking advice out there is very bad.
Do not ask me what makes me smile when I get up in the morning.
I just now read an article on a business website offering networking advice. The author makes the very wise suggestion that you take the focus off yourself and place it on the other person, but then goes on to recommend a list of questions you should ask in conversation in order to avoid small talk and have meaningful conversations. These include, “What makes you smile when you get up in the morning?” and “What’s the most important thing I should know about you?” This sort of advice is not uncommon. I see it all the time. Other commonly suggested conversation starters include things like, “What person living or dead would you want to have dinner with and why?” Then there’s plain old, “What’s your story?”
Please do not ask these questions. They are unlikely to have the effect you are looking for.
When someone tries that stuff on me, I think “Oh, great. She read something about how to have an interesting conversation and now I have to do mental gymnastics to make her feel good about herself.” And it drives me crazy.
I don’t know what the most interesting thing about me is, it’s not actually your business what makes me smile in the morning, I’ve been asked that question about the dinner companion more times than I can count, and what do you mean “What’s my story?” I don’t know what my story is. That’s just too much work.
Don’t make people work to talk to you
People want to feel like you’re interested in them, not in trying to impress them with your supercool conversation skills. They want to feel that conversation with you is easy, not difficult. And answering these stupid questions is difficult. Not easy.
People like to crap all over small talk, particularly the question, “What do you do for a living?” But I enjoy small talk. And I like being asked that I do for a living, because I like what I do. And lots of people feel the same. Small talk is a good way to get to know people and it can lead to big talk, but it doesn’t have to. We don’t all have to be sharing our innermost feelings and personal insights all the damn time.
Ask people what they do, where they live, if they’ve tried the beef. Find a way to share a little something about you (yes! You can talk about you! Despite what you’ve heard. Just don’t overdo it), then turn that around and ask them something:
“I was just in this neighbourhood last week to see the musical Cats. Have you seen it?”
“I like this place. It took me a while to get here. Do you live or work nearby?”
“I love this cheese and wine together! Have you tried them?”
From those topics you can go to:
Musicals, theatre, pop culture and general interest…
Neighbourhoods in your city, venues you enjoy, where you get out and around to…
Food, snacks, cheese, wine, restaurants, (lactose intolerance?)….
And more. Talk about normal, interesting things. Avoid focusing too much on work and jobs, and don’t ask for help. Not at the first meeting.
Ask people about things that are easy to talk about. Don’t make them work to converse with you. People (well, most people anyway) will enjoy their time with you much more than if you ask them that dumb question about who they want to have dinner with.
For more conversation starters visit this post on Career Beacon.