As I sit in my backyard reflecting on a recent networking event I attended, my thoughts are overpowered by the sounds of a group of neighborhood children playing.
As I listen to them, I think of how their interactions are so simple yet inviting and engaging. Their main goal is to have fun playing their imaginary game together. The group is a racial mix of children, ranging in age 6 to 12 years old who do not seem to care who is wearing brand name clothes or where the others came from. As I watch their interactions, there are a number of pre-existing friendships among the children but as they play their game, new faces are readily welcomed into the fold.
With this in mind, I think of the interactions at my recent networking event. The group was made up of business professionals varying from fresh graduates looking for their next job to veteran CEOs staking out new business ventures. Our group varied as much as the children’s group did but the dynamics between the two groups were very different.
As adults, we bring preconceptions and established beliefs to every interaction we have, whether it is an old friend or new business acquaintance. Our past experiences dictate how we will perceive a new person and how we will treat them in all present and future interactions. Do you want to view this interaction as a new opportunity or as a repeat performance of a similar situation you experienced in the past?
I strongly believe there was a lesson to be learnt here from these children so as adults and business professionals, we can maximize our social interactions and make lasting positive impressions on one another.
Live in the Moment
Don’t think of the work you will be doing later in the day or a deal you worked on the day before – think of the people you are interacting with now – in the present. When having a conversation, ask questions and when the person responds, listen with both ears and acknowledge with strong eye contact. If you are a person who truly listens to people, it will be easier for you to assess your client’s needs and identify strong business opportunities.
Focus on the Commonalities – Not the Differences
The children at play are all playing the same game, despite physical capabilities, age, gender or interests. They see everyone as a potential playmate so try to take the same perspective when entering a networking event. Just because someone you meet is not your ideal customer, does not mean that they don’t know 10 colleagues who are. When networking, treat everyone as a potential client because when they see how well you treat them, they can only imagine how well you manage your paying clients.
Maximize Your Time Together
Children’s play schedule can be cut short with a quick call to come home for dinner, so they maximize the time they have to play together. Sometimes we only have a few seconds or minutes with a potential client. Make the words you speak count so the people you meet leave the conversation with a positive impression of you and your business. Be concise with your words, engaging with your message and inviting with your body language. Above all – listen! It is amazing what you hear a person say when you really listen – both with their mouth and their body language.
We Can All Play Together
A child’s game is only limited by their imagination. If a game is designed for 10 children and another child comes along, the game is adapted to include the newcomer.
When you network, you will meet other professionals who do very similar work as you do; but don’t see them as competition because the game of business has room for everyone. Some people may argue this one but it is all in the perspective from which you see the situation. If another business is doing exactly the same thing as you are and you see no difference, maybe it is time to tweak your approach or services to create differentiation.
In the end, the pie is always big enough for all of us to play nicely together. You may meet people whom you can pass business off to if your workload is at capacity or if you think they can meet the client’s specific needs better than you are able to. When you support other businesses, people will do the same for you and your business referrals will soar.
Laughter is the Best Icebreaker
Not every interaction you have will initially come easy so come equipped with a few jokes. You don’t have to be a comedian but being able to make an entertaining comment about the networking event goes a long way to making people smile. Laughter is the best way to get someone to smile and break down their exterior façade so you can get to the heart of a good conversation. Laughter is attractive and infectious so don’t be surprised if people gravitate to you when you have another person chuckling.
Everyone Has Something Valuable to Say
Everyone in the room has something to contribute to a conversation but do not always have the opportunity to say their thoughts. As children play, even the shyest are often engaged in the game and contributing their thoughts to make the game even better. When meeting new people, listen to everyone in the group, even the quiet comment the person said in the back. It may help you understand them better or solve a conundrum you are facing.
Your Best Friend May Be Right Next Door
Sometimes you don’t have to look any further than 3 feet away to meet your future business partner. When you look back on the time you met your best friend or business partner, it is often under an obscure event that your paths crossed but look at where you are now. You never really know what the person next to you has to offer so be open to learning and seeing what possibilities may be presented when you chat with them.