by Bob Salvas
Sometimes when you meet people at a networking event, the conversation just flows. Other times, not so much. One of the best ways to keep a conversation moving with someone you have just met is to ask open-ended questions. People love to talk about themselves, so ask them not only what they do for a living, but what they like to do for fun, where they grew up, what organizations do they belong to, what other networking events they have been to or even if they are involved in volunteering or any charity work. Remember the goal is to build relationships with these people. You don’t have to JUST talk business. You might be pleasantly surprised to learn some interesting stuff about your fellow networkers and you just might have more in common with them than you would have guessed.
Finding that common ground with people is actually one of the building blocks to the trust that can lead to both business and referrals. Strange as it may seem, the trust that is built is not always based purely on business acumen, but rather on ‘likeability’ and that is often based on what we have in common with people. Have you ever been traveling to a far-away state and met someone from your home state? Isn’t it strange how an instant bond is formed with that person? As if geography could predict that you would get along? Yet it happens all the time.
Another good way to build rapport with people that you are networking with is to ask for their professional opinion on something. It does not have to be directly tied to their specific area of expertise, but it should be somehow related to their industry. People will feel good about themselves when their opinion is sought and therefore, those people will feel good about you for asking.
One last bit of advice: when asking ANY open-ended question to someone, make darn sure you are actively LISTENING to the answer. Not listening to an answer will have the opposite effect that you want and damage the relationship before it even gets off the ground!