You need more people in your network than there are now? Then you should meet new people.
And that’s probably where I lost you…
One of the biggest challenges in building a strong professional network is that we have to bring new people into it. And let’s face it, meeting new people can be tough. It takes a lot of energy to start and develop a conversation with a complete stranger. It’s especially daunting when you feel that you have to carry the bulk of the weight and be conversationally awesome.
Luckily, you don’t have to work that hard. Instead of keeping the focus on yourself, keep the conversation focused on your new friend. Ask questions, and engage with the answers. Here are three simple topics that everyone likes to talk about:
- Their motivations and passions. It’s great to ask someone what they do for a living, but if you really want to get them talking, ask them why they do what they do for a living. Ask them what their story is. We all have one, and we love when others take an interest. You can find out a lot about a person when you find out why they chose to become a doctor or work in the financial service field, or why they believe in supporting a specific charity or cause.
- What’s in the photos they have in their wallet or on their wall. We keep pictures to remind of us of things we care about; so if they have pictures of their kids, pets, friends, vacation spots, boats, etc., it’s something they care about. That doesn’t mean you have to ask to see their wallet, but keep your ears open for when they mention anything that would be in a photo – that’s something they like talking about. (Have you ever been in a conversation with someone who just loves their Pug? You can’t make them stop talking!)
- Their accessories. When you meet someone “out in the world” at a networking event, meeting, or other social gathering – look at the what they use to accessorize. Think about how you get dressed: the jewelry and other accents you use often have strong meanings – you pick them for a reason. So does everyone else. You can often make a great connection (and hear a wonderful backstory) with someone when you admire a broach, watch, or ring. Just ask, “That’s an interesting set of cufflinks, where did you get them?”
Remember, business relationships are human relationships – connect with the person as a human and the business will happen.