Most entrepreneurs expect to find themselves at networking and industry events at least a few times per calendar year, if not per month. But far too many promising conversations turn into one-sided pitches punctuated with a business card.
Before you head out to your next event, why not practice a more thoughtful approach to conversation with a like-minded stranger? You might even end up with a new business partner, customer, investor, or friend. Here are 14 ideas to try:
1. Ask a thoughtful question.
Ask something that will get a unique conversation started. Instead of "What do you do?" ask, "What do you hope to take away from this event?" Or ask them what they think of a new idea you have. People remember having an interesting conversation.--Caitlin McCabe, Real Bullets Branding
Most people launch right into their pitch or chitchat. You'll make a more positive, memorable impression if you allow the other person to speak first or if you pose an open question and then listen attentively to the answer. The more the other person talks, the better a conversation partner you're perceived to be. My grandfather used to say there is a reason you have two ears and one mouth--use them accordingly.--Lindsey Pollak, Millennial Workplace Expert
3. Ask what you can do to help.
When meeting someone new, a great strategy is to quickly get a sense of what he or she does, and then immediately look for ways to help that person. Ask, "Can I make an introduction to so-and-so?" or "Would it be helpful if I connected you with X?" Far too many people look at networking as a way to get things. By approaching it as a way to give, you'll forge great relationships with tons of amazing people while paying it forward.--Brittany Hodak, ZinePak
4. Give them a reason to remember you.
I find that one of the most important things you can do during the first five minutes of meeting someone is give them something to remember you by. At a business event, they may meet many individuals, but when you make a strong and memorable first impression, your new acquaintance will remember you the next time you reach out.--David Schwartz, EMMDeavor (DBA Qruber) & Wireless Watchdogs
5. Focus on quality, not quantity.
Show genuine interest in the conversation. Write the event name on their business card, then follow up within 24 hours. Go for quality of connections rather than the quantity of business cards you collect by the end of the night. Business cards aren't going to get clients at the end of the day, but connections and strong relationships will.--Erik Severinghaus, Simple Relevance
6. Ask what makes them happy/excited/lose sleep.
… Anything but what they do. Networking events can end up like an elevator pitch on a time loop. Stop the cycle by asking about something unrelated and see where the conversation takes you. And listen!--Alexis Wolfer, The Beauty Bean
7. Remember their name and story.
Business events are an excellent way to grow your professional network by meeting in person with other professionals. You never know who you will meet and how you two may work together in the future. I have met some incredible people at events; folks who have been extremely instrumental in my success.--Lane Campbell, Syntress SCDT
8. Clearly define what you do best.
Have your elevator pitch ready to roll. Try to make it interesting and deliver it with passion. Be proud and excited about what you do and make the message clear and sticky.--Vinny Antonio, Victory Marketing Agency
9. Tell a story.
10. Smile and make eye contact.
People make judgments within the first seven seconds or so of meeting you, and that's statistically around the point at which they start tuning out if you don't engage them. Smiling at them and making sincere eye contact shows them that you're warm and interested in speaking with them. These tiny gestures will set the stage for you to engage in a meaningful conversation.--Darrah Brustein, Network Under 40/Finance Whiz Kids
11. Say their name.
Say their name. Everyone likes to hear the sound of their own name and it helps you form a connection. That, matched with solid eye contact and a firm handshake, creates a positive first impression.--Ashley Mady, Brandberry
12. Send an intro email on the spot.
It's 2014! I don't get the value of business cards anymore. Anytime I meet someone and they try to end the conversation with "Here's my business card …" I stop them, pull out my phone and ask them to enter their email address. After that, I send them a quick intro email and boom! We're connected. While it's a little awkward in person, it has exponentially increased the amount of follow-ups I get after meeting them the first time.--Mike McGee, The Starter League
13. Talk about your passions.
Tell them about your passions and ask them about theirs. This can be as simple as saying "So what is it you're passionate about?" after the typical "here's what I do" back and forth. This tends to catch people off guard in a good way, and allows them to either wax poetic about the aspect of the work they love, or something outside their work to which you may have a connection. Either way, it helps build the relationship.--Colin Wright, Asymmetrical Press
14. Compliment them.
Make sure that your appearance and demeanor radiate health and energy. Be genuinely interested in the people you meet; ask them questions about themselves and try to find something on which to compliment them.--Vladimir Gendelman, Company Folders Inc