Chatting at networking events, becoming friends with fellow entrepreneurs, asking customers for feedback—face-to-face exchanges will always be a huge part of business and life (in fact, meeting like-minded people is one of the 10 greatest perks of becoming an entrepreneur).
Too often, though, we fill conversations with small talk or self-promotion and fail to make genuine connections that lead to long-term, advantageous relationships. Or, in the case of many introverted business owners, we run away from in-person interactions out of fear of rejection or social anxiety.
Connecting with others isn’t an innate quality that some people are just born with; it’s a skill that can be practiced and mastered. Here’s how to start rocking in-person exchanges even if you’re not a social butterfly.
Use Tricks to Remember Names and Details
“Remember a name and call it easily and you have
paid a subtle and very effective compliment.”
—Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People
Remembering people’s names or details about their lives, such as their hobbies or the number of children they have, quickly builds rapport. It demonstrates that you’ve truly listened to the conversation and that you care about getting to know the other person.
If you find contact information going in one ear and out the other, try these memorization strategies:
- Focus on listening for the other person’s name rather than worrying about introducing yourself
- Repeat their name aloud (and in your mind) at the beginning and end of the conversation
- Associate their name or hobbies with a visual trait like a big nose or square glasses
- Associate their name or hobbies with another name or thing that you remember, such as connecting your new acquaintance Suzy with Dr. Seuss
With these strategies, you’ll be able to end the conversation with a memorable closing like “Suzy, it was so great to meet you. I wish your son the best of luck with his first year at York University.”
No need to put on a face and act more outgoing or gregarious than you really are. People will know when you’re faking it, which doesn’t bode well for creating legitimate relationships. Relax, be yourself, and leverage your unique strengths rather than focusing on weaknesses… which leads us to our next point.
Make the Most of Your Greatest Strength: Listening
What do Albert Einstein, Mark Zuckerberg, and J.K. Rowling all have in common? They’re all introverts—as well as insanely successful professionals thanks to their ability to listen, internalize information, assess outside opinions, and solve problems.
Take a page from their book and focus on leveraging your listening skills to become a better conversationalist. That may sound counterintuitive, but the fact is that letting others do most of the talking and then following up with a handful of strategic questions or solutions can be much more impressive than dominating the conversation.
(Don’t believe us? Just ask Brandy Besler, a successful Community Futures entrepreneur who now runs a thriving business despite a paralyzing fear of public speaking!)
Do Your Homework
Networking events can be stressful, especially for shyer folks. Take some of the pressure off by doing your homework ahead of time:
- Who is going to be there? Is there anybody in particular that you want to connect with, like an industry influencer or local newspaper contact?
- What are they passionate about? (Hint: check out their social media feeds and websites)
- What questions would you like to ask?
- How can you help them achieve their goals?
Don’t be creepy or force a connection if there isn’t one. However, there’s nothing wrong with finding that you and a local entrepreneur you’ve been hoping to meet both share a passion for restoring old cars, and then using that information to break the ice organically.
Follow Up Afterwards
It’s easy to make a good first impression. It’s harder to follow up after meeting someone, which makes you stand out from the crowd and can lead to a more in-depth connection.
Got Sarah’s business card at an entrepreneur networking event? Shoot her an email the next day reiterating how great it was to meet her, and include a link to the e-book you recommended during your conversation. Chatted with a customer about improvements for your product? Send them a thank you note explaining how much you appreciate their time and suggestions.
Be of help to others and they’ll never forget you. If during a discussion, you learn that your conversation partner is struggling with something that you can assist with, go above and beyond by offering to help.
It could be something as simple as connecting them to the right person in your network (like a mentor or expert) or promoting their latest blog post on your social media pages. Just remember: when offering help, you must mean it. Being disingenuous or failing to follow through on your promises are relationship killers.
Be that selfless person who goes out of their way to be of service to others and always do what you pledge. Your sterling reputation will soon speak for itself, making it even easier to connect with others and rock those in-person exchanges every time.
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