Have you ever been at an office holiday party, and as you look across the room, you realize that you know no one in the room?
Or have you gone to a business conference, and during meals and break sessions you sit by yourself, playing on your phone and hoping you look busy so that you don’t have to awkwardly try and meet people?
We’ve all been there, and I’m sure we’ll be there again. But networking is such a critical part of our professional and personal growth, and it’s a skill worth practicing every chance we get.
The American Gentleman tells us that, “business gets done on the back of [our] connections,” and that even though you may be the smartest person in the room, that doesn’t mean that you’re the most successful. And that’s what our connections can do for us: they help us make things happen and introduce us to thoughts and ideas we might not have been exposed to otherwise.
Talking to Strangers
The ARE Technique
First, identify someone who seems approachable. Someone by themselves or just a couple of people. Make eye contact, and confidently go and introduce yourself. Most people can do this part, but flounder at what comes next. Dr. Carol Flemming, a communications consultant, has a small talk strategy that almost anyone can follow and utilize, call the ARE Technique – anchor, reveal, encourage.
An anchor is simply a shared observation. Either something related to the event you are at, or a topic that is on hand. Even the dreaded “weather option.” Don’t worry stressing over finding something incredibly interesting to say. Almost everyone realizes that these initial forays are simply the polite and necessary first steps required before you move into substantial conversation.
“They really laid out the red carpet for this years party.”
The reveal is merely sharing something about yourself, that is related to the anchor. By offering up something about yourself, you are extending yourself out to the other person and providing them with something to respond to.
“There is a much larger crowd than there was when I attended the party last year.”
Time to get the other person involved. Ask questions related to your reveal that seek to find out if the other person has some connection to your reveal. These questions usually start off with something like:
- Tell me about…
- Have you ever…
- What brought you to…
- How do you know…
- When did you…
“Is this your first time coming to the party?”
At this point you should be able to push the conversation along, either continuing to use the ARE technique, or segueing into a more in-depth conversation.
But meeting people is just the first part of the equation. Once you meet folks, you need to build on those relationships, keep up with them long term, and give as much as you take.
There are all sorts of ideas out there for how you can maintain those relationships. Some of my favorites are as follows.
1) Thank Them. If you enjoyed meeting them, if they gave you some good advice, or if they gave the greatest gift of all, their time, send them a note to let them know you appreciate it! I highly encourage sending a hand written note for an extra personal touch, but if you only have their e-mail address, and e-mail will do.
2) Share with Them. Did you just read a really cool industry analysis? How about an insightful book? Sharing ideas and thoughts is a big part of networking. Sending an article or book title via e-mail not only helps keep you on someone’s radar professionally, but it is also generally very much appreciated by the recipient. Remember, give as much as you get.
3) Learn from Them. Seeking feedback and advice from the people in your network is a great way to continue building a relationship. I have gotten some great feedback and ideas from the network I have outside of my office, and I truly believe it has helped me do my job better as well as helped my connections feel useful as well. As with the other two above, make sure not to overwhelm them, or contact them too frequently. Monthly contact might be nice, but weekly and daily contact (unless they are you manager) could get to be a bit much...
4) Meet with Them. Make sure to meet up for coffee or meals every once in a while. It doesn’t have to be all business, and it might even be good to find commonalities and interests outside of the professional sphere. Shared interests will help to strengthen your relationships for the long term.
5) Don’t Overwhelm Them. I really like how Frank Gullo puts it in his article on Business Insider: “Wine connoisseurs like Miles from “Sideways” will tell you that letting wine breathe will bring out its true aromas and flavors. This is due to aeration and the warming of wine from the surrounding air. Professional networks, like wine, also need time and air to flourish. Take care to nurture your network and give the people in it the space and room they need to breathe.”
So go forth my friends and network with confidence! Meet new people, cultivate new relationships, and watch your knowledge and people skills blossom.