Biz Etiquette, Lesson #2
It was awkward. We were at an early evening meet-n-greet with the Chamber and I'd been making the rounds greeting colleagues and friends. I took the time to introduce myself to one or two people I didn't know and then sequestered myself off to one side to watch the crowd for stragglers. (Herding stragglers is something I try to do at these kinds of events, but that's another Biz Etiquette Lesson.) As I was standing there, I had the opportunity to overhear two businessmen trying to have a small-talk conversation – but one or both of them were introverts, or else really didn't have a clue about how to carry a small talk conversation. It was clear it was awkward for them as they shifted from foot to foot in silence punctuated with failed attempts to get something going.
If you're going to attend a networking event, you need to be ready to lead a conversation – because so few people seem to know how to do that well. So, in Lesson 02, let me offer a quick way to get a conversation going. Here are just four short points you should memorize ... if you do, you’re likely to become known as a GREAT conversationalist. (Though with this caveat, just because you handle one side of a conversation, it doesn't mean the other person can.)
- Greeting: "Hi, I'm Bill. I don't think we've met."
This allows you to save face just in case you have met sometime in the past and you've managed to have forgotten. On the other hand, if you have met in the past, you can either skip the "I don't think we've met" part or substitute it with something like, "Good to see you again. I think the last time we met was at ____." This allows the other person to place you, in case they've forgotten.
- Warm Up: "How long have you been coming here?"
The point of this question is to get a measure on how comfortable they may be at the event. For instance, if it's there first time at a Chamber of Commerce networking event, they may not know very many people (or any people) and could be pretty uncomfortable. This allows you to switch roles to being a gracious host (presuming this isn't your first time there too!). On the other hand, this may not be the most "appropriate" question, especially if you're at a one-time event. In that case, you'd adapt the question to something like: "How long have you been a part of the Chamber?" Note, you don't want to ask about their business ... at least not if you're making an attempt to build a relationship (relationships first, business second!).
- Small Talk 101: "What keeps you busy during the week?"
IMHO, this is the most important small talk question you can ask. Why? For two reasons:
First, it gives you an opportunity to hear what the person values most (unless they're so programmed to give you their elevator speech that they can't be authentic for even a minute or two – and of course, that tells you something too!).
Second, it gives them an opportunity to save face if they're attending because they need a job. There is almost nothing more emasculating for a man or a woman than to be unemployed. At most biz events, conversation begins with a greeting, an introduction, and then straight into “And what do you do?” as in “What’s your occupation?” Admitting you’re unemployed is difficult in the best of times – it can be devastating at a biz event
- Tell Me More: At this point, you should have enough information to carry on a productive conversation. No matter what they’ve shared in the previous question, “Tell me more” is a pretty good response. Watch their eyes as they talk. Their eyes will light up when they’re speaking about something that excites them. That’s the perfect time to encourage them to “Say more about that.”
Small talk is an art, but it’s a useful art in biz situations. In today’s world, people tend to buy from those they know and from those they know that care. And people know you care when you’re show interest in them. Yes, you’ll get your turn to share your Elevator Speech, but unless they’re actively seeking your particular product, they won’t remember much about your speech ten minutes after you’ve left. BUT ... if you’ve taken the time engage in productive small talk, they’ll remember you. And if they remember you, you’ll be the one who gets the call when they find themselves in need of your product.