What is the first step to meeting someone in person? Not a trick question—your first answer is likely intuitive and would be correct. It's to say ‘hello'. Seems easy enough, right? Say hello, introduce yourself, exchange names, find common ground, share stories, perspectives, and accomplishments all the while extending friendly politeness through body language and tone. It's in this interaction that a new connection is born. This first encounter is the foundation of a great networking techniques of all types; social and professional.
Now if it's so important, then why do we find it challenging (well, it's certainly not a walk in the park for most people)? Or, for those that are veteran networkers, why did you find it challenging (before you made it look easy)?
Much of the hesitation that comes from meeting someone face-to-face stems from simply not knowing how. None of us took the ‘Networking 101' subject in high school.
There's indeed a method to meeting people. There are tools to learn and how to use them; our voice, our tone, our demeanor, our facial expressions, our hand gestures, and our posture to name a few. However, even as I list these tools, they aren't foreign to us. We are fully aware of our capacity to utilize these at our disposal. The main root of the challenge really comes down to allowing ourselves to be vulnerable.
Here are some quick techniques that may help you in these face-to-face networking interactions:
1. Open the conversation with situational relevance
Here is one networking method. Rather than racking your brain thinking of something witty and original, use what's around you in that moment.
For example, if you're standing at a café looking at the menu board you could say to the person next to you, “Hi, I noticed you ordered the caramel latte, it's my first time here, any recommendations?” If you're sitting at an airport lounge you could say to the person sitting close by, “Hi, I don't mean to pry, but I noticed you're reading <book title>, I just read that last month. How are you finding it?” If, of course, you're at an industry event, before or after it begins, you can open with, “Hi there, I thought I'd introduce myself, my name's Jack, what brings you to this event?”
2. Initiate the handshake
Try to make a habit of shaking hands when there's a name exchange.
This could be at the very beginning as you open a conversation or it could even be five minutes in as you say, “I'm sorry for rambling, I didn't even formally introduce myself, my name's Jack”. Whenever you say your name, it's important to stamp your impression with a handshake. It's a physical anchor that will help you be remembered and is a great way to build comfort/rapport.
Small tip: if you're at a networking event that makes you wear name tags, make sure your tag is on your right, so it's in the line of sight when you extend your arm and shake hands.
3. Have your elevator pitch ready
Always be ready to present your offering when meeting someone for the first time. It's that short sentence or two that captures your value proposition.
Try not to mistake this for the name of your role or title. Imagine the lack of impact I'd make if at every first encounter, I intertwined my personal introduction with “I'm a designer”. Oh the blandness. Instead I say, “I design meaningful customer experiences for businesses big and small” and… “How that is visualized of course utilizes all technologies—both analog and digital”. What's yours? Have one prepared.
4. Reflect their body language
Many of us have heard this one and it's personally helped me out a lot. If ever you start to feel anxious, uncomfortable, or draw a blank and freeze, let this be your go-to.
For instance, if the person you're speaking to is soft spoken and calm, then stick with that energy and pace. Mimic and reflect that person's subtleties. The same principle applies when someone is nervous or uncomfortable towards you; you're naturally likely to reflect that back to them.
5. Act as if you already know them
This is my technique for mental reframing. This thought alone has destroyed any anxiety I had towards initiating an introduction. With this thought comes positivity, confidence, and charisma. Try it and see your subconscious work its wonders.
6. Ask questions that are memorable
No one likes a show-off. Make sure you're not talking about yourself too much. The key is to ask them questions. Quality ones at that. I try to find ‘pebbles' of what they say and give it back to them to expand further.
An example is if they say they're in social media marketing. You could follow-up by asking them, “What's your opinion on the <latest platform> to help build the brand of a business? Can it be a tool to do this?”
Asking relevant and well-thought-out questions will help you stand apart.
It's totally okay to mingle when the situation presents itself. In fact, it's a must. This means ejecting from certain circles of conversation. Don't feel guilty about mingling. Your goal should be to make new connections. Once you've exchanged contact details (emails or even an on-the-spot LinkedIn request is great), then politely tell it how it is; “It was such a pleasure to meet you. I'd love to continue the conversation so I'll definitely be in touch”.
8. Always close the conversation by getting their contact info
There are varying degrees of contact details. I always feel that emails make for a great exchange, whether you've met a person for a few minutes or a few hours. They're professional and non-obtrusive. LinkedIn networking is also great since most people have the app on their smartphones these days. Either way, at least ask the question. It's the only way of connecting again in the future. Close in context. Here's an example, “I've got to head off to an appointment, but let's stay in touch, I'll grab your email or can add you on LinkedIn if you're on there?”
Initiating is the first step and can be the most challenging. Rest assured, it gets easier the more you do it. Hopefully the network techniques above can help you on your journey to meeting people in the ‘real world'. The benefits of doing this for me in everyday interactions, whether it be at a café waiting in line, or chatting with new people at an industry event have led to profound opportunities both in my career and securing personal clients.