Surefire techniques to turn ANY NETWORKING EVENT to YOUR ADVANTAGE.

I am in the event business. At some level, I am actually just a matchmaker. I create events that technology professionals and business owners use to meet the people they need to know. Want to know what I don't get?

People frequently go to networking events unprepared to make a connection!

I get that the natural state of technology people is that they are really, really good with ideas and sometimes stuff, but not always people. I love the people who come to our event. What sometimes bothers me is that they don’t take advantage of all of the great people standing around them! 

If you are a programmer, then hanging around other programmers may give you great ideas for your next project. Hanging around other business owners may give you the opportunity to understand where the best opportunities may be for your future. Hanging around (the occasional) accountant may lead you to understand your financial opportunities better or more. (I married an accountant, so you never know what may come of it.) 

 Here’s the bit most people miss. Unless you teach yourself to be inquisitive and learn about others, many opportunities simply pass you by. Sure you are going to talk to some people you may not be able to relate to, but there are plenty you can help or even be helped by. To figure out if someone is a potential connection for you, you need to be able to ask questions and listen. Don’t know how to get that conversation started? Try some of these...

Four guaranteed conversation starters that are not the usual blah, blah:

What brings you here? This is so much better than the crappy pickup line “Come here often?” You may get a bland answer but if you do, then dig deeper. If you get, “I come for the networking.” Then reply “Interesting, what would be a great discovery for you in your networking?” They may not have thought about why they come, you will have them percolating on it. Better yet, they will be both engaged with their purpose and with you.

What do people pay you to do? I love this question because it sidesteps so much of the junk answers people deliver when you ask them what they do for a living. No one replies “They pay me to be the President of TurtleMax software.” They say “I put IT people to work.” This question, gets at the heart of what a person does to earn their keep. By asking the question differently than everyone else, you once again have piqued the interest in the listener and caused them to get emotionally engaged with their work and with you. Ask interesting questions at a networking event and people will remember you. Doesn’t that sound like a good thing?

What does a win look like for you tonight? This question can shake people up a bit. That’s a good thing. While some personality types are highly focused on goals, that really is only a small percentage of the population. Most people only vaguely know what a win would be in their day to day efforts. Some haven’t a clue. If you ask the question and get a momentary blank look, don’t rush to fill the void. Let them think. It may take several seconds for them to formulate an answer. You may be digging down to the nature of their life or work goals. Wait to see what they come up with. If they don’t answer with something either you or they could actually act on, then probe further. You are eventually going to come around to my favorite question...

How can I help you? This one is direct. It is also the question that seems to surprise people most. Most people at networking events understand that they go to help themselves they are startled when someone offer them some help. This is one more chance for you to come up with a clear actionable step with which you can help another human being. When you ask this question, you are looking for some way to make a helpful, memorable connection with them which will involve you taking some action on their behalf on your own time. This is how you spread good in the world. This is how you create lasting connections. Help others. I’ve spent my whole adult life trying help others. Sometimes they even try to help me back. This has led me, and I expect it to lead you to a remarkable life.

About that help you are offering. I haven’t forgotten that you have goals of your own in the world. I will get to that, I promise. Start helping yourself by being in the right place at the right time. If you are attending the right networking events, then some percentage of the people you ask to help actually need you. Hopefully you have a good answer for them on who you help and why.

While finding a person who needs you AND is ready to commit the resources required to engaging you is an absolute win, chances are you will first encounter a request that’s something short of that. Often it’s an introduction to a certain type of person. Do it. Make an introduction. Try to find some way you can help the person you are talking to at the very event you are both attending.

I have helped people get job leads, find new customers, and begin collaborations on game changing new businesses. In most cases neither person knew the other. If someone is looking for contact information, pull up your smartphone and send it to them right then. If you don’t have that capability or it isn’t quick and easy for you, then write yourself a note and do it as soon as you get to your computer. Nobody does this at 9 pm at night, so why don’t you?

Remember the idea is to help people and they will naturally remember and start talking about you. Better yet, they will be talking about how you are a problem solver that gets things done and helps them make connections. That is exactly what I’d like to be remembered for. What would you like people to remember about you?

About Phil Yanov

Phil Yanov is a Technologist, Columnist and Public Radio Commentator.

He is the founder of Tech After Five as well as the founder and President of the GSA Technology Council and the IT Leadership Council.

His personal technology column appears in Greenville Business Magazine and the Columbia Business Journal.

He co-hosts the Your Day technology shows heard on NPR radio stations across South Carolina and is a frequent contributor to technology stories appearing on radio and television.