My family and I were at a local restaurant recently having dim sum (it may not be as tasty as the ones in Chinatown in Manhattan, but yes, they have dim sum in Texas) when another family sat at the table next to us. We gave them the friendly Texas welcome smile, which we finally learned to do (yes, this seems to be the practice in Texas so don’t be weirded out when you visit and strangers give you a ‘smile’).
The family sitting next to us had a little boy (probably about four years old) and he seemed to like to wander away towards the restaurant’s aquarium on display. My son, who is five, is the same way. So after eating his delightful dumplings, he walked away from our table to the aquarium, and within a couple of seconds was having a conversation in his own little way (he suffers from autism) with the other boy. The communication exchange between the two was what amazed me. He made a connection and while we were at the restaurant, he was engaged in what the other boy was saying and doing.
I thought to myself, that’s a great attitude to have when networking with others. So here are a few things I learned from my five year-old:
- Have no fear. Many people I know are afraid to go up to another person to engage them in conversation even at a networking event. Here’s the best opening line, “HI, I’m ______ (insert your name here).”
- Be loose as a goose. Nervousness may be part of the experience when meeting new people, but it shouldn’t stop you from going up to them and introducing yourself. You’re not proposing in marriage.
- Be open (but not too open). No one needs to know you won the belcher of the year award in college. Find out what you have in common and have a conversation about it. Similar to my five year old and the other boy, they were talking about Super Mario Bros. [Yes, that same game we used to play on a Nintendo 64 is still around.]
- Be engaged and engaging. It’s two-way street. Once you feel like you’re monopolizing the conversation, YOU ARE! So shut up and ask questions and let other people speak. How do you know you’re monopolizing the discussion? Everyone, but one stays in your group, and the one left is slurring his Rs.
- Don’t leave home without it. I’m not talking about your American Express card, but your business card. It doesn’t matter whether your business card was made by professional printers or by your own personal ink jet printer, just make sure you have cards with your contact info on them. Some of the folks you meet might just throw them straight into the trash, but some will keep them. Those that keep them might need to get in touch with you in the future when a need arises like when a major crisis transpires at their company. At every networking event I go to, my goal is to hand out at least ten business cards to the new people I’ve met. Note: this tip didn’t come from my five year-old.