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Networking made easier by remembering a few words

Business networking is something that for some is the most exciting part of their day; for others just another “thing” to do; and for still others a stressful event just to think about, let alone do.

For many, talking to people can be overwhelming — whether it’s in an elevator, in line at the grocery store or standing next to the buffet line at a networking event. Talking just seems awkward and the words never seem to be the right ones.

Take yourself back to the last time you were with people. Did you avoid eye contact? Did you try to look busy so other people wouldn’t talk to you? Did you shield yourself with a friend, chatting away while ignoring all the other people around you? These are all symptoms of being uncomfortable — and definitely ways to avoid networking opportunities.

To start any conversation, a smile, eye contact and a hello constitute a good beginning. But where do you go from there? For some, saying hello is not the problem, but rather what do you say once you get past the niceties of the greeting?

That’s all going to change, though, by remembering this simple acronym — BETGH. Ok, so the acronym isn’t that simple. But follow me on a journey and it will be.

Business. Everyone does something to support themselves and their families. The first and easiest aspect of a person’s life to ask about centers around what they do for a living. Once you have a general idea of what they do, remember to ask a follow up question that relates to finding out more about a target market they have, a specific product or maybe even a distribution area.

Entertainment. Now that you know what they do for a living, find out what they do for fun. There’s a lot that can be learned once you know what really gets someone going. Remember, you’re asking about something that can open up an entire floodgate of conversation, especially if you share

Travel. Find out how often they travel. Where’s the last place they visited? Was it for business or pleasure? There are many discussions that can be wholly consumed by the topic of travel.

Goals. Up to this point, you’ve been asking questions that have been easy for the other person to answer. The answers will give you a window into who they are, but now it’s time to get down to business. Find out about one of their goals for business, and make sure you give them a time frame. For example, you might ask: “What is one goal that you have for your business in the next 12 months?”

Help. Depending on all the information gathered up to this point, this is a place to explore how you can help others achieve their goals. Maybe someone wants to increase business by 30 percent. You might ask if he or she has a coach, or what plan is in place to achieve the goal. The response will include clues that offer valuable information on how you might be able to help them.

Remember: The goal of all business networking events should be finding ways to help the people in the room. It’s not about getting business for yourself. What? You’re shocked? When you help others first, they will help you.

Most business networking events include a lot of people who are interested in how you will help their businesses, not the other way around. When you come to the table with different motives, not only will you stand out, but you also will be forming lasting bonds with those you meet.

The next business networking event you attend or the next elevator you step into, when you start a conversation remember these three things:

1. From the very beginning be thinking of how you can help that person.

2. Listen actively so you can ask engaging follow-up questions.

3. Follow up with the help you promise and you will always be remembered.

The zen in business networking occurs when you focus on others.

Jennifer Kettlewell has been involved in BNI since 2006 and has been executive director of the Northwest Colorado BNI region since spring of 2010. The largest business networking organization in the world, BNI offers members the opportunity to share ideas, contacts and, most importantly, business referrals. For more information, call 985-4192 or log on to www.WesternSlopeBNI.org.
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