Step 2: Converse
You are one conversation away from your next opportunity. One conversation away from learning of a key way to re-position yourself for your next job; from gaining a deeper understanding of the needs of a potential new client and how you might address them effectively; or from finding the ideal joint venture partner to help expand your business.
You can get what you want if you just talk to enough people. One of the key ways to uncover hidden opportunities and gain an edge over your competition is through the information you glean through conversations with your network.
The trouble is sometimes we just don’t talk to enough people. We’re so used to turning to the Internet for everything, that if we can’t find it there—on a job board, in a news story, on a company’s website—we think it must not exist. But the need is definitely there. It’s just that we haven’t yet discovered who needs us most or the best way to approach them.
Conversation is also the way to advance relationships. Last week we discussed the first step of building relationships organically by connecting with more people around us. This week, we explore how simple conversations can move those relationships forward naturally. Here are some key tips:
Initiate more conversations. When you’re at a networking event, don’t wait for people to approach you, start more conversations yourself. One of my strategies is to position myself in a place where people tend to gather but not engage in deep conversation, such as the registration table or buffet line. With your online network, pay attention to what they’re posting and find opportunities to engage. Even simply asking “What’s new with you?” for example, is an easy way to start the conversation.
Make conversations productive. I did a free teleclass recently called the “Top 10 questions of Six-Figure Job Seekers” and asked people to submit questions to me and I’d answer the 10 most popular ones on the call. One of the questions I got was from a gentleman who said, “So I went to a networking event the other night. I met three people and we talked politics and a little bit of shop, now what?” I told him that wasn’t enough. Small talk helps to break the ice and build rapport as you uncover things you might have in common. But don’t stay there. Move on to having more robust conversations by asking more thoughtful questions.
Ask thoughtful, relevant questions. Questions keep the conversation open. Questions help you enhance your professional knowledge and get to the insights. But they also help you enhance your people knowledge. In addition to asking broad questions about what might be happening in the industry, ask specific questions about what someone might be working on that they’re excited about. When you get people to talk about what’s important to them, they grow to know, like and trust you more than if you did all the talking yourself.
Listen openly. I’ve written in the past about the importance of listening. When you listen to what others are saying, really listening and not just pausing before jumping in with your next comment, you show that you know that the interaction is not all about you. Listening helps you gain a deeper understanding of others’ goals and can help you uncover how you might possibly help. That’s how you build on the rapport you established through small talk and start to turn that into a relationship.
Connections deepen through conversation, and next week, we’ll conclude this series on building relationships organically by delving into the final step of moving seamlessly from conversation to conversion.
Liz Lynch is founder of the Center for Networking Excellence and author of Smart Networking: Attract a Following In Person and Online (McGraw-Hill, 2008). Connect with Liz on Twitter at @liz_lynch and get your free Smart Networking Toolkit at http://www.SmartNetworking.com.