My friend Dee and I were snowshoeing a few weeks ago, when we ran into a man with an infant in a baby back pack and a dog at his side. We stopped to chat, admiring him for snowshoeing alone with his little one, asking how the baby liked the ride on daddy’s snowshoes. Dad mentioned that he snowshoes often to clear his head and solve creative problems for his web services business. Dee asked about the business then mentioned she has a friend looking for web services. Before you knew it, they were pulling off their mittens and exchanging cards. Unbelievably, they both had business cards in their snowshoeing day packs. Just another networking encounter, in a most unexpected time and place.
I am always amazed by Dee’s ability to network anytime, anywhere. Airplanes, coffee shops and grocery store lines are a snap for her. I’ve seen her network while waiting in line to see Santa. I heard her networking with a child during recess duty. She is known for networking with a judge while disputing a traffic ticket though I wouldn’t advise trying it.
Dee laughs when I ask her what the secret is. It’s easy she says. You just talk. But when pressed, she reveals the following techniques, all of which come naturally to her, and can be learned by the rest of us:
- Be friendly, smile, make eye contact
- Show you’re available for conversation with your body language
- Initiate conversation by saying hi and gauge response
- If a dialog follows, ask questions
- Listen, respond to what you’re hearing, ask more questions
- Show warmth by smiling, laughing when appropriate
- Don’t be afraid to shift the conversation toward the professional by saying “What do you do?”
- Never make it all about you.
- Always make it about the connection
- Always have a business card ready, and be ready to receive contact information with pen and paper or a smart phone
- Have a positive attitude
- Be continually open to interesting new people, conversations and connections
Dee does not want or expect every encounter to benefit her professionally. She just likes connecting with people. Often encounters end with no professional benefit to either side. Sometimes she has something to offer the other person. Sometimes she makes a new connection for someone else in her network. Occasionally she makes a connection that helps her with her work. Sometimes she comes away with a new friend.
Try it! Start easy. Simply say hello to someone while you’re waiting in line and see if you can make the conversation blossom. Work your way up as you get more comfortable and adept. Most important, be open to the possibilities. The next time you head out for a walk in the park, you may just come home with a job lead.
Tell us: What’s the craziest place you’ve ever networked? How did you do it?