Networking Tips: And Then You Press “A”

Approaching a stranger at a business function is scary when you’re new at it. You could be at an event looking for clients, but you don’t know what to say. Any networking tips would be appreciated. The best approach is to keep it simple: walk with purpose, face a person directly and say “Hi, my name is ‘blank’”.

I belong to a generation of nerds raised on Nintendo. My social development involved Role-Playing games where I would direct my avatar to different supporting characters, press a button, and read their dialogue in a text box. I needed no witty repartee in the virtual world; I would just receive a one-way message from any villager I thought had information about my quest. In the real world, though, I was a coward in the face of flesh-and-blood humans who could judge me for being awkward. DeviantArt cartoonist “JohnSu” depicts the dilemma perfectly in this strip:

http://johnsu.deviantart.com/art/How-To-Talk-To-Women-416921669

How To Talk To Women by JohnSu

In recent months, however, I realized the video-game model can work in real life, with adaptations. In games, I would play as a hero fighting to save the townsfolk from a sinister Dark Lord. Talking to them was part of a larger mission. In business, I’m a contractor with services to offer. It’s not quite battling tyranny, but I’m still there to help. What I do is important.

In games, you push a button to speak to someone, but you don’t really speak, you listen. In real life, you can approach a person or group and simply say “How’s it going?” Networking environments are meant for introductions, so you’re not being weird for striding in (and you should stride. Be confident.) Once you say hi, perk up and listen. Ask questions and let them talk. Don’t worry about what you’ll say to keep the conversation going, but try to create conditions in which they feel comfortable sharing information. It’s possible to be both strong and gentle; think warmly of the people you’re with.

In games, the rule of thumb is “Talk to Everybody”. Not everyone’s message seems valuable, but they’re all part of a puzzle you’re meant to solve. You view the game’s story through character interaction, and through them you discover the world the designers created. In real life, not every person is interested in buying from you, but they might direct you to someone who is. Treat these people with respect because they’re not dead-ends- they may speak well of you to others.

We’re conditioned to think we need pick-up lines and sales pitches to get by in a social setting, but sincerity is the real key to success. With today’s social media, we see less value in flashy advertising. It’s more important to be natural and engaging. Speaking of social media, similar strategies work there. Post something real that you do, and let the conversation flow in the comments. The pressure is off to put up a front. Be simple and open.