Introducing yourself to a stranger is hard. It was hard on your first day at Kindergarten, it was hard on your first day of University, and it will no doubt be hard at any networking event you go to.
But we all know the benefits of networking. Whether that is meeting new people that you can go to for advice now (or later in your career) or learning interesting things about people and industries you might not know anything about.
The fact is you never know where meeting someone new might take you and the possibilities that could arise.
So how do you do it? How do you introduce yourself to someone (stone cold) with the aim of striking up a conversation?
Before we tell you our 3 tips, keep in mind that the person you are introducing yourself to is at the event for the same reasons you are: to talk to new people, have interesting conversations and enjoy the free wine.
1. Target people: Now we don’t mean this in a, “I am putting a target on you and you’re not getting away from me before I speak to you” kind of way. We mean identify who you would like to talk to. Maybe you saw the firm branding on their name tag and are interested in that firm or industry or learning about that firm or industry? Or you’ve stalked their LinkedIn profile and know all about them and think they’re really impressive? If you have an idea of who you want to talk to and why you are speaking to them, it will make the next 2 steps a whole lot easier. This is because the goal of your conversation will be clear and you know the angle you will take. For example, wanting to learn more about a firm is a simple, “this is who I am and this is why I am interested in your firm.” You will then ask a few questions related to the firm and industry and their advice on how to get into their firm or the industry. (Everyone loves giving advice.)
2. Have your personal story ready to go: After you’ve said your name, learnt who they are and what they do, your next step is to have a sentence ready to go; “this is me and this is why I am interesting and this is why I am talking to you.”Always try to link your personal story to whatever they are doing or something they have done (which is the reason you are talking to them). For example, the other week I met Ian Thorpe. After blurting out my personal story (which I heavily focused on my former sporting life) I honed in on the transition out of sport and how it was really difficult (knowing that he had had a very difficult transition). This meant that Ian and I had a talking point for the rest of our conversation. Essentially a commonality that we could discuss. Crafting a personal story isn’t easy – it needs to be punchy, interesting and a little bit of a differentiator. We get that it’s hard, so we decided to help you out (love from the girls at ENID).
3. Finish the conversation gracefully: Let’s say you’ve met someone who you think could help you get your dream (or next) job. Let’s say you really want to steal them for the next hour and grill them about everything. Don’t do this (unless you think you’ve really hit it off and they clearly want to keep talking to you). It’s a networking event: people are there to have fruitful discussions with a whole mix of people. What you should do however, is ask for their business card, thank them for their time (heavily!) and ask if they’d be like to have a quick coffee in the future (because you’d love to learn more from them). As they are likely to be flattered they’ll usually say yes. Then in the next 2-3 weeks, shoot them an email saying how nice it was to meet them, how much you learnt about the topic they were talking about and that you’d love a 30 minute coffee in the next couple of weeks. If you’ve been kind, grateful and were passionate about what they were saying, they are likely to say yes. And boom, you’ve made a ‘career friend’ from a networking event that you could help you out in the future.
Some events networking can be hard (even excruciating); you’re just not on your game and not in the mood to dazzle the room with your conversation. At other events you feel like a social butterfly and are collecting advice, ideas and future contacts like a boss. Each event is different and the more you go to, the better you get.
All you have to do is try. At the next event, be bold and introduce yourself to a complete stranger. I dare you.