How to introduce yourself to a room of strangers

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People would rather die than have to talk to strangers

According to a New York Times article  on social anxiety in 1984 (archived  copy is incomplete), people fear walking into a room of strangers and public speaking more than they do death.

So, in general, people are not born networkers. The fear of meeting new people has to be overcome before a visitor can get the most from attending a new group.

This blog is a guide to becoming an effective networker which will help to build your community of practice.

 

‘Givers gain’

This is the foundation of the first business networking group I ever joined. Without the BNI my business wouldn’t have lasted two years (it ran 2004 to 2014). ‘Givers gain’ is the foundation of the networking carried out by members, it’s a short way of saying ‘if you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’.

This helps to fulfil the is the most important parts of networking:

  • know
  • like
  • trust

Of course, with business networking you are also looking for sales. The videos and other references in this blog are sales focused, I have taken out the important bits to help to build a group of contacts that can help and advise you with your future projects.

Set a Goal – Begin with the end in mind

What attracted you to the meeting? Was is the speaker, the attendees or did you just fancy a night out? Beginning with the end in mind is the second habit of Highly Effective People.

If you don’t want you want to get out of an event, then frankly it’s just going to be a waste of your time.

Possible goals:

  • You like the look of the group on paper – seek out the organisers and offer to help with future meetings. This could be giving a presentation or handling the paperwork. Figure out what you can offer and volunteer
  • There is someone in the room who you would like to connect with – most groups have an attendees list. Check it out to see if there is someone you have heard about would be a useful contact. Do your research on them and have a few prepared open questions
  • You want to hear the speaker – again, do research and then talk to them by asking questions on the talk or earlier works. Find out where they are talking next so demonstrate your interest in their work., find out if they have a mailing list

Who are you?

In business networking this is the easy part (although you might be surprised how many people don’t know that they do for a living).

In business you have a job title, a role and a business card. To be honest, I find business networking far easier than when visiting somewhere as a student. This is probably down to a fear of not knowing how I can add value to the person I am talking to (hey, this guide is as much for me as it is for you).

So, have a short 15 to 20 seconds ‘elevator pitch’ to explain who you ‘are’. In my previous life I was the ‘best travel researcher in the UK’, so I explained how this service can bring value to the stranger’s holiday plans.

Know it of the top of your head so you won’t be affected by nerves.

TIP

When I learn presentations, I learn it back to front. By this I mean I start with the last paragraph, then I learn the next but last until I know it all. Most people learn the words in the chronological order. So they spend more time on the beginning and less on the end. If you are a nervous speaker you know that you are going the reach the parts you don’t know that well – more nerves.

Doing it backwards should increase your confidence. I also find that this method helps me to paraphrase if I forget parts.

Be genuinely interested in people

You may have just come up with an algorithm that correctly predicts the lottery, but this isn’t about you. It is about you finding people you would like to add to your community. So get people to talk about themselves. You already know how great you are.

If you haven’t added the stranger to your goal list (so don’t have any background research on them), ask loads of open ended questions to learn as much as you can about them.

The more you know, the greater the chance that you may be able to help them (remember – givers gain). It sounds mercenary, but even if they are not a fit for your community, they may know plenty of people who could be. The best introduction to someone is through a friend.

Record everything

As soon as you can, make a note of everything you have just learnt about someone. Then the next time you see them you can ask about their dog/cat/boat/child. Yes, it might seem creepy to you, and perhaps it is only a short step away from stalking, but this is how successful salespeople do what they do, so do it.

Also, how can you add value to someone if you can’t remember anything about them? Whichever database system you’re confident with, use it to start to record every contact you make.

The MOST IMPORTANT action – Follow up

There are two ways to waste your time when networking. I have already mentioned one, which is not having a goal for the event. The second is not following up.

Attending a networking event is just the starting point for starting a new professional relationship. The follow-up helps you to develop it.
When should you follow-up? The next day.
Here are a few methods in following-up with your new contact.
  • Send a quick email – reflect on the meeting, “It was so nice to meet you at the event last night! Best of luck with your…” Then add something like “We started to talk about XYZ and I’d love to continue that conversation. How does your schedule look next Thursday to grab coffee or lunch?”
  • LinkedIn – some say that this website isn’t what it was, but it is still a useful way to remain connected to someone. The free tools can keep your contacts front-of-mind for you (and you to them)
  • Add reminders to your calendar to touch base and run something up the flagpole to see who salutes it

 

Remember, give first and do not expect anything in return.