If you've heard it once, you've heard it a million times. Your network will power your business.
It will help you find your first customers, connect you with strategic partners, and open up opportunities you've never dreamed of.
But building your network can be challenging. You can spend countless hours at conferences, networking events, and meet-ups, and never connect with anyone beyond small talk.
Former behaviorist with the FBI and expert in interpersonal communications, Robin Dreeke, shares several techniques for how to quickly build rapport in his book, It's Not All About Me.
Establish artificial time constraints.
You know the dread that sets in when Chatty Cathy starts talking to you at the beginning of a five-hour flight. Don't be that person. When you initiate a conversation, set the other person at ease by defining an artificial time constraint. You can say something like, "I'm about to run and grab a drink, I have a quick question." This sets the person at ease. They know that even if you turn out to be as dull as drying paint, they won't have to talk to you for too long. If you'd like to ensure that you aren't as dull as drying paint, keep reading.
Use nonverbals to set them at ease.
You know the overly aggressive sales person whose approach is a turnoff. Don't be that person either. A genuine smile radiates warmth. A slight head tilt communicates trust. Angle your body, rather than standing head-on, to make your approach less intimidating.
Slow your rate of speech.
Don't be the fast-talking used car salesman. Slow down. Slow speech builds credibility. See every U.S. president.
Use a third-party reference to initiate the conversation.
You've probably used this one before. Have you ever been at a party where you only knew the host? A good starter question with anyone at the party is, "How do you know the host?" That's a third-party reference. At a work function, it might be, "How did you hear about the conference?" or "What did you think of the speaker?"
Focus on the other person's needs, not your own.
Too often at networking events, we focus on our own needs. You'll have more success building lasting connections if you start by focusing on the other person's needs. Don't treat the conversation as tit-for-tat. Instead, give them the stage. Explore what they are looking for. If you stick to this approach, your needs will be met in time.
Ask open-ended questions.
Be interested in what they are telling you. Ask for more details. Use head nods and verbal confirmations to show that you are listening. Reflect back what you hear by repeating what they said as a question. For example, if the person you meet is telling you that they are trying to find their first client, respond with, "You are trying to find your first client?"
Share a little about yourself to encourage them to do the same.
If the person seems shy or reluctant to talk, start by sharing a little bit about yourself. This may make it easier for them to engage with you.
Dreeke has many more tips illustrated with stories in his book, It's Not All About Me: The Top Ten Techniques for Building Quick Rapport With Anyone. Following Dreeke's advice is a great way to start building your network.