After you’ve learned your conversational partner’s name and taught yours and then effectively answered the “What do you do?” question, the interaction frequently simply falls apart. Many revert to talking about the weather; we all know that the topics of sex, politics and religion are off-limits, so most discussions lapse into a well-worn pattern:
How are you?
Great. How about you?
Been really busy at work.
Yeah, me, too. Really busy.
Yeah, I’m looking forward to a 3-day weekend soon.
You know, we should get together for lunch sometime soon.
That sounds great – I’ll give you a call soon.
Great. Good to see you.
This, friends, is a conversation in search of a topic.
So – what do you want to talk about? Before you walk in the door of any potential conversation, take a moment to think about what you might be looking for – and it isn’t a new customer. This is not the occasion to tout your business, your products, your skills, your talents. This is laying the ground for a productive relationship and to learn more about the person standing across from you. This is your opportunity to have a “Give” and a “Take.”
Everyone has something to give to a conversation. You might have a terrific virtual assistant that you can recommend, or an article you just read on B2B marketing, or a website you’ve found that is chock full of resources. Your job in the conversation is to listen generously to discover what the other person is interested in or needs. Since they probably don’t know what they’re looking for, this search involves asking great questions. Think of your high school journalism class and use the “who, what, when, where, why and how” queries to unearth interests. If you ask a question that can be answered with a “Yes” or a “No,” that’s probably what you’ll get and the conversation comes to a screeching halt. One of my favorites is, “What have you been working on lately?” This is broad enough for lots of avenues to explore. Ask enough questions until you find something that you can provide to your new contact. This is the beginning of a growing relationship.
Having a “Take” to pursue provides value you can receive from a networking opportunity – and again, it isn’t an immediate customer and/or sale. This is not the chance for you to corner someone to push your way into their personal space and sell, sell, sell. People can feel that predatory nature and instinctively shrink away from aggressive approaches. Think of this as a chance for you to circulate and, perhaps, find something you need in your own life. I suggest that people take a look at their desks; that’s where most of our challenges appear as we move it around the surface until we find a solution. Are you looking for a new supplier of office supplies? How about the name of a proficient accountant? Perhaps you’re in search of some information on exporting overseas. Whatever it might be, that’s your contribution to the conversation. It’s easy and productive to say, “I’m thinking of opening a zip line in the country hills north of town. Who do you know that could help me out with engineering and safety?” I call this the “If you don’t ask, you don’t get” method.
It’s also a graceful way to exit a conversation that isn’t proving to be fruitful or that’s monopolizing time. We’ve all been in exchanges that simply stall and we begin to look around the room looking desperately for someone we know so we can politely leave the conversation. If you have your “Take” on your mind, it’s so easy to say, “You know, I’m looking for a great summer camp for my son. I think I’ll go mingle and see if I can find some recommendations. It was great to meet you.”
Taking full advantage of the opportunities that present themselves in the3 Key Moments that happen in every conversation provides the groundwork for developing a rewarding relationship that can provide a multitude of results - future client, referral resource, mentor, brainstorming colleague, collaborative partner, or member of your personal board of directors.
Making those contacts count works!