Like you, I used to dread such events but then my little yellow Lab, Rosie, taught me a lesson about networking.
Dogs, it turns out, are great networkers. Whether you have a dog or not, go to a dog park and watch master networkers in action.
Rosie, being a pup, loves to play. Once let off leash, she tears off to join the pack and as she gets close, she pauses and almost lies down but her rear end is up in the air with her tail wagging maniacally. It turns out that dogs universally understand this as an invitation to play – it’s known as the play position.
One or several of the other dogs accept her offer and approach her and…sniff. My do they sniff! As they sniff away, their postures change. Midnight, the rescue dog, approached cautiously and held himself fairly stiffly at first but after a few sniffs, his body relaxes. Shadow, a huge black lab, after a quick sniff, shows no restraint as he pounces on Rosie. Utley saunters away after the initial sniff and Owen, the Border collie, gets to work herding the whole bunch.
Now what does this have to do with networking? I believe small talk is our human way of sniffing each other out. Talk all you want about the weather but as you do so, the other person will be assessing you and you will be doing likewise (although you may not consciously be aware of this). Are you someone she wants to get to know better? Are you trustworthy? Can he have fun with you? Do you have anything in common? Might you be a valuable prospective client?
And talking about the weather is useful and safe because we all experience it. In groups of strangers we strive to find common ground and therefore weather is an ideal topic as is the traffic, the Super Bowl or the stock market.
It’s in these initial exchanges that we discover valuable information that influences our behavior. Do you get the sense that you are clicking with this person? Do you find yourself getting more tense or relaxing as you are discussing the weather?
Rosie and her friends know that you have to offer something in these exchanges. The dog whose attitude is “it’s all about me” – who hogs the ball or pushes too hard will soon find himself iced out. There is a give and take in dog play that is important for us to emulate.
Similarly, at a networking event, it’s not all about you – ever. Rather than fret about how you will introduce yourself, show genuine interest in others. Learn how to ask questions that encourage others to open up. Work to find common ground that helps to cement the connection. (We are more likely to like people who are similar to us.)
Rosie likes to round up as many of her buddies as she can and if she could talk, I bet I would hear something like: “Skylar, I’d like you to meet my friend Charlie who is great at Frisbee…you like Frisbee too, don’t you Skylar?”
In addition to demonstrating interest in others, it’s also good to help others make connections that may be of importance to them. This way, you are positioning yourself as someone who gives value, who is helpful. People like that!
To sum up, here are Rosie’s networking tips:
- View small talk as a safe way of finding common ground and discovering if a deeper connection is possible.
- Show genuine interest in others and ask questions that will help them talk about themselves.
- Really listen. (Don’t allow your eyes to wander the room, looking for other “better” prospects.)
- Figure out if you can provide something of value to others such as a helpful resource, a business tip, or a lead.
- Look to introduce people who have something in common or who might benefit from knowing each other.