5 everyday places to network & and how to start the conversation.
If my first two Networking Guides were the Blueprints, consider this article your Next level Training. You’ve learned the value of building your personal brand, expanding your professional network, increasing your ability to found long-term relationships and exposing yourself to different viewpoints. Now it’s time to put these new skills to work in your everyday life.
Our life presents networking opportunities on a daily basis. Case in point: the time I landed a successful deal at the dog park. Every Friday, my husband and I take our two miniature schnauzers – the pride and joy of my family – to the dog run by our house. About two months ago I started chatting with a fellow dog mom who, as it turns out, is the VP of a non-profit here in Dallas. Over the next few weeks, she provided me with an enormous amount of insight into the nonprofit world and invited my husband and I to her upcoming philanthropy event, at which I met one of the board members. Next month Proven Recruiting will be working on an order for his company!
See? Networking doesn’t have to be at some formal event, nor should it be confined to those narrow parameters. This dog park scenario is only one of many times I’ve been able to successfully connect with strangers throughout my career.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that I talk to anyone I make eye contact with – but I know this is not the case for most people out there. So if it’s not your natural tendency to learn everyone’s life history, here are my top tips for maximizing networking opportunities in your everyday life.
5 not-so-obvious places to network:
I count myself lucky – Proven Recruiting’s Dallas office is located in a WeWork, so my networking opportunities are essentially endless. I purposefully keep my lunch in the community refrigerator even though we have a mini-fridge in our office in order to interact with people outside of my company. You never know what these interactions can turn into.
Again – not every networking opportunity is going to be at a designated networking event. Here are some common places to strike up a conversation:
1. Your next flight
Flights present a unique opportunity; assuming you’re seated next to someone who doesn’t immediately don their headphones, you have a captive – and often interesting! – audience.
2. At the dog park
Or, for you human parents, any place you take your kids – the park, school events, after school activities, sports teams, etc.
3. The elevator
Again, take advantage of your captive audience. Plus, if this is an elevator at your place of work or apartment, you might be able to forge long-term relationships with people you see on a regular basis.
At the coffee shop, the grocery store, a sporting event, a bar, waiting on a table at your favorite restaurant, post office, home improvement store, volunteer events – you name it.
5. Gym or fitness class
The perfect time to bond over similar interests and shared experiences!
5 creative conversation starters:
Approaching a stranger is hard – and talking to them about something that’s not work is even harder. Work is a crutch, and it’s not a very good one; no one wants to hear about your daily grind – they have their own stressors.
Here are 5 creative ways to spark a meaningful conversation with a stranger:
1. Keep in mind where you are and start out with something basic and broad.
For example, if you’re flying, ask if the person is from the destination you’re going to or if they are on vacation. At the grocery store, you can comment on what someone is buying – i.e. “oh, that looks great, I’ve been wanting to try that. Have you had it before?” Keep it simple.
2. Compliment the person on something they are wearing, their jewelry, their kids or pets – whatever speaks to you. People love talking about themselves and starting the conversation with a sincere compliment will often open people up to conversation.
3. Smile and say hello. It’s amazing where a simple “how’s your day” will take you.
4. Ask for advice or help. Keep in mind you don’t know the person and you’re in a public setting so the question should be relatively elementary. “I always get the same coffee, what kind are you getting today?” Or try, “excuse me, do you have the time?”
This tip relies on the “Ben Franklin Effect,” a psychological theory that posits asking a favor of someone will make them like you more (and more likely to do you another favor in the future). Use this to your advantage!
5. Make a joke or generic comment about your shared environment. While waiting in line, try “I think this might be the slowest line in history!” Or after an exercise class: “the yoga instructor today was great!”
One more thing to remember: interactions in public settings are often stifled by technology. How often are you absorbed by your phone on the subway? Or busy checking your emails while waiting in line?
Talking to people is uncomfortable, and forcing yourself to have these interactions will certainly feel strange at first, but I promise you that the people you’ll meet and the things you’ll learn will benefit you more than the article you were reading about the latest celebrity breakup (unless it’s this article, in which case, keep reading! Your professional future depends on it!).
It should go without saying: the conversations you have with strangers don’t always (or even often) turn into long-term, mutually beneficial relationships. But as they say in sales, it’s a numbers game. The more often you have these types of interactions, the more chances you’ll have of meeting ‘the one’ – be it professionally or personally.
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