There I said it. I’m an extrovert (I love being around people!), but I am naturally shy and uncomfortable in open-ended networking events (I prefer to be around people I already know).
Despite the butterflies in my stomach (still happens almost every time), I’ve learned how to make meaningful connections at these types.
Do it afraid. I ignore my ambivalent feelings and start conversations. Sure, they’re usually menial at first – about the food, the music, a basic introduction – but I’ve opened up communication.
Ask questions.I’m naturally curious and love to hear people tell their story and talk about their passion. I draw on a set of questions I learned eons ago in a Dale Carnegie training session. Almost always, I can get into a conversation with someone as I ask questions like:
What is your name?
Where are you from or where do you live?
What is your job/how did you get started in your job? How d you like it?
What do you do for fun or in your leisure time?
Keep it short. Whether it’s your answer to someone’s question or the overall duration of your conversation – keep it brief. I keep in mind that the other person wants to meet additional people at the event and it’d be beneficial for me to do the same.
Follow-up. Not every contact is a potential customer, but every contact is valuable in my professional network. I’ve found Twitter to be one of the best ways to keep connected to other professionals. Once I know their Twitter handle I can follow them and tweet a quick “great to meet you” note.
Are you naturally comfortable and bold at professional events where you don’t know many people? How do you make the most of these opportunities?