It’s a common bias that networking events are a waste of time. You risk losing a day’s work just to eat finger food at the buffet, to here commonly known things from the speakers and to walk away with useless business cards that will disappear in a drawer.
Ice breaking is a talent…
Well, the difference between those who are able to turn networking events into business opportunities and those who go away empty handed (but with a full belly!) is the ability to break the ice. In fact, similarly than speaking in public, starting a conversation with a complete stranger is stressful for most people. Whether it’s a big convention or a meeting with few people, you are forced to get out of your comfort zones, to risk a potential rejection and to feel judged by the other party. On the contrary, there are some people who look at ease during these situations, showing a natural talent for ice-breaking and starting a relationship.
…but you can learn it!
Don’t worry, with the right tips and some practice you can learn as well! So here are some tricks and apps to break the ice effectively during networking events, getting the most out them and increasing your self-confidence.
1) Prepare in advance of the event.
Much of the work should be done in advance: find out who are the people who will attend the event, and if there is anyone in particular that you would like to contact. Even better, you can start networking before the event! When you want to participate in a large-scale event such as a festival, a conference or a convention, you can look if it had been added to event platforms such as Meetup, Eventbrite or others. By registering to the event you can see who will be present and begin to contact them either directly from the platform, or on other social networks where direct contact is easy, like Twitter and LinkedIn.
On the other hand, when you are going to participate in meetings with a limited number of people, you can use applications such as Charlie App: like a digital butler, Charlie analyzes the participants and sends you an e-mail with key information about them shortly before the meeting. A summary of their curriculum and their past working experiences and even the activities and interests you have in common: smart tips that allow you to start the conversation the right way. Just a simple thing like knowing the favorite football team of a person may be the key to avoid gaffes and easily create a bond!
2) Get ready with questions to break the ice.
The first sentence is key. It determines whether the other person will be well disposed towards you, taking his/her time to talk to you, or if after a few sentences he/she will disappear pretending an urgent need to hit the restroom. No one wants to feel under interrogation: starting with a “What do you do?” question makes the counterparts feel intimidation and can even be a little embarrassing. Examples of ice-breaker questions used by networking experts can be:
- Questions easy to answer, which does not require any effort and put the other person at ease. For example, questions like: “Are you native from [event location] or your are you here for business?” facilitate the answer, since the other person definitely knows how to respond, and at the same time they bring the conversation in the business direction.
- Questions about the event, like the reasons that prompted the other person to participate, how they discovered the event, what do they think about the speakers, etc. This type of questions facilitates the conversation: since if you’re both there, it means that you have an interest or purpose in common!
- Questions about recent news, like: “Have you heard of [recent news]?” Read the industry newspapers before the event and be ready with some interesting industry news to share with other people. This way you will demonstrate competence and the fact that you are always updated on what’s going on in your field. With RSS reader apps like Feedly you can have a quick look at the most viral articles of the moment and find an interesting topic in seconds!
On the other hand, do not expect that the other participants would be so nice to you: prepare an excellent answer to the question “What do you do?”, highlighting the value you create with your work, to leave a good first impression.
3) Stay in touch.
After the event, if you have met people who may be interesting for your business, now everything depends on your ability to stay in contact and evolve the relationship. Before leaving, offer them your business card or use an application to exchange digital contacts. For example, applications such as Swapcard create a virtual business card collecting your information from LinkedIn or Twitter, allowing you to exchange it with the other person via the app or by email. You just need to ask their email address, and within seconds you will send your business card to your interlocutor, who can save your data in his/her address book, without the risk of losing the paper card.
Plan a follow up in the following days; you can use a CRM like Sellf, where you can also write down the key information about the new contact, what you talked about, what opportunities might arise and what are the best topics for future contacts.
Well, now you have all it takes not to be afraid by a little of “ice” between you and a person you do not already know! These techniques are perfect even for events that are not related to business, like a party or a wedding where you don’t know the other guests. Who knows that your next customer or supplier is not in line behind you at the grocery store?