Masterful networking starts by asking the right questions

Have you ever experienced the awkward silence that often ensues after first meeting a fellow business person in the networking arena?

The conversation usually goes something like this:

Fellow Networker: “So what do you do?”

You: “I work with property investors in maintaining their portfolios.”

Fellow Networker: “Wow, that sounds fun, I’m a web designer.”

Now, insert the awkward five-second pause.

Instead of counting your breaths during this time, it’s much better to be prepared with an arsenal of five questions you can ask your fellow networkers.

Start with the knowledge that everyone out there has a story. Everyone you meet at a networking event has different reasons for being in the business her or she is in.

A master networker should always remain indelibly curious.

Ask: “What do you like most about what you do?”

Open the floodgates about their passions. Show that you’re curious about what they do, and you might find that many of the answers surprise you and easily lead into further conversation. Remember that after your fellow networkers have talked for a bit, they’ll realize it’s time to turn over the reigns and they’ll probably ask you this same exact question.

Ask: “What made you decide to venture into your industry?”

Remember that everyone has a story, and it usually starts with what led them into their chosen field. Take yourself back to third grade and when you were asked what you wanted to be when you grew up. Maybe it was a doctor, a firefighter or even a dancer. Yet, one day you woke up and realized you’re an investment banker. The same thing happened to the person you’re talking to and the story lies right under the surface of your fellow networker.

Ask: “Where else do you usually network?”

Not only will the answers possibly give you additional ideas of where you can go to grow your own business, it gives you a chance to add value to the conversation by detailing opportunities of which your fellow networker might not be aware.
You can also follow this question with asking about who the target market is and help guide the person to events that offer a saturation of his or her target market.

Ask: “What is your biggest challenge right now?”

This question can provoke anything from governmental regulations to recruiting qualified employees. Ask this question toward the end of the conversation and you’ll be surprised by some of the answers. You’ll instantly be able to tell who is in touch with their businesses by the answers they provide.

Ask: “How can I help you?”

Ask this question at the very end of the conversation. By this time, a lot of information has been exchanged and there are probably some ideas floating in your fellow networker’s head. This is also a great place to suggest a followup meeting outside of the event where you can discuss things in greater detail. This is the time that you let others know you’re interested in helping them with the challenges they face and that you’re not there to sell to them.

This might surprise you, but networking is not about making sales. Networking offers an opportunity to create value in a relationship that eventually could turn into business for you. However, the first order of business should always be about the other person and how you can affect their business in a positive way.