After 32 years in the information profession, countless conferences, more “networking events” than any pair of heels can recall, and taking Ken Haycock’s sessions on networking & influencing at least once/year (plus reading his favourite book, Work the Pond), I confess that, depending on the day, my knees quake at walking into a room of people I don’t know. Some days networking is the hardest work I do.

Note that this is Rebecca, not Jane; Jane, like Ken Haycock, is a brilliant networker. If you get a chance, watch her and, better yet, talk with her at an event.  She has trained me over the years, and I came to realize that the foremost competency for information professionals is also the best competency for networking. Curiousity.  You’ve heard me go on about it before. Here it is again. Curiousity.  It is curiousity that drives us to be the best at matching information solutions with client problems, and it is curiousity that drives us to ably engage in conversations.  Networking is about finding out about people.

FastCompany has a wonderful short article “Hate Small Talk? 5 Questions to Ably Work Any Room.”  Check it out — it is terrific.  I’ve used some of these questions, but not all — and I certainly will.

  1. “What’s your connection to the event?”This question can uncover mutual contacts and usually leads to a more robust answer than if you asked the typical “Have you been to this event before?”  Excellent
  2. “What’s keeping you busy when you’re not at events like this or at work?” This question gives the encouragement necessary for the person to share his/her passions and outside interests. It is an excellent way to add some enthusiasm into a conversation that has hit a lull, especially if he/she would prefer to be doing that activity at that moment.
  3. “Are you getting away this summer?”  – or winter, spring, year! It doesn’t matter. It’s to find out more about their family & personal life. 
  4. “Are you working on any charity initiatives?” This question makes it easy to launch into a deeper connection.  I had this happen recently — at a small event someone I’d just met asked me if I was on a charitable Board.  It made me think, and sparked quite the conversation!
  5. “How did you come to be in your line of work?” For some, the path to where they are today can be quite an interesting ordeal. Having a chance to revisit their story to success can leave helpful clues along the way as to who they are and what makes them tick.  Yep!

One other note that struck me in this article:

“Your words may be forgotten, but how you make people feel will be remembered. “

This is so true.  Be curious about the person — listen to them with your eyes and ears (don’t be scanning the room looking for someone else) — you have no idea the positive impact your introduction and your interest can have for them and for you.  Good luck!