Sweaty palms, dry mouth, and a light case of the shakes. Is it the onset of the flu? Nope. It's networking time. Networking can be a nerve-wracking experience, especially when you don't know anyone at the event. But it's a necessary part of an entrepreneur's work.
Polishing your networking skills is easy to let fall by the wayside in favor of other items in your burgeoning workload. But take the time, because networking does more than just build your business. It can also be a way to bounce back from burnout if you're feeling discouraged and reinvigorate your creativity if you're feeling tapped.
The thing about networking is that we're all there to widen our professional circles. We rely on each other for sales and referrals. And the number one factor in sales is relationships. That's why the best questions to ask are the ones that help you get to know the other person. Even though I am naturally shy, networking has helped me make new friends, close amazing deals, and learn new skills.
Here's a list of my favorite questions that break the icy awkwardness of solo networking events.
1. What brought you to this event?
The answer might reveal if your potential new friend came with a colleague, to support a friend, or to represent a company. This question can help you see what you common interests you share and ease you into the conversation.
2. Do you know anyone else here tonight?
This is good way to see if your fellow networker is alone and in need an event buddy. Often, when people learn that I'm flying solo, they'll take me under their wing even if they're attending with friends.
3.How long have you lived in [whatever city you're in]?
This helps you get to know other attendees a little more personally. Some follow up questions might include what they like about their city or how they decided to move there (if they are not native to that city).
4. I'm headed to the bar, what should I get?
You can't do all that talking without something to wet your whistle. Make a graceful transition to the bar with a lighthearted question about what drinks they recommend.
5. What are you working on right now?
Infinitely better than "what do you do?" is asking what they're currently doing. We tend to prioritize our time based on what we most enjoy doing. So asking about the project of the moment almost guarantees they'll be talking about something they're passionate about.
6. Do you have any fun weekend plans?
This is a great question for events taking place Wednesday to Friday. Weekend plans can get you chatting about common interests. Who knows, you might even find a new hiking buddy or friend to add to your weekly poker matches.
7. I'm tired, what number coffee are you on today?
Chances are 9 out of 10 people at your event are also tired. Make a joke about caffeine intake and get them talking.
It's natural for people to ask the same question they've just answered in conversation. So don't ask any questions you don't want to answer!
Being a good networker takes practice so don't get discouraged if your first few events feel a bit rocky. Ask open-ended questions that help keep the conversation going and invite a little personality into the responses. You'll get to know more about their work and what they might be like to work with, too. See what events are happening near you and get to an event this week!