Wednesday, March 20, 2013

What Do You Say After “Hello” at a Networking Event or Even on an Airplane?

Don Gabor, What Do You Say After Hello at a Networking Event?

The room is packed and the business cards are flying. Before you stands a potential client who fits perfectly into all of your target demographics. Knowing what to say after “Hello” to this person might make the difference between earning some valuable business and merely accumulating another business card.

The good news is that there are potential conversations all around you--if you are willing to take the risk and start the conversation. For example, if you are at a business networking event and happen to be near the food table you can ask “How’s that guacamole?” Or, if you are looking at the speaker’s promo materials you can ask, “What brought you to the event?” Working your way out from the food to the speaker to anything in the room is fair game for conversation.

Another useful technique for keeping a conversation interesting and fresh is the smart use of ritual questions. A ritual question is a commonly-asked question that is typically easy to answer like “Where do you live?” They are handy for a couple of reasons:

  • They allow for other topics to be introduced into the conversation.
  • They reveal supporting information about yourself to the other person.
  • Answering ritual questions shows that you are willing to open up to the other person.

When it is your turn to answer a ritual question, consider it an opportunity to show you have a genuine interest in the other person by revealing some information that was not specifically asked about. This extra information is called free information and encourages follow-up questions and additional comments. 

For example, in response to the question “Did you grow up here?” which of the following two responses suggests that the speaker wants to engage with you?

A) “No.” or “Yes. ” or “Why do you want to know?”
B) “No, I grew up in ______________, but I’ve been living and working here for years and loving every minute of it.”

A good conversationalist will choose option B because it not only seems friendlier, but adding free information will give the other person multiple avenues to continue the conversation.

Body language is also a powerful ally to help keep a person engaged after you say hello. In the phrase book of body language, the most important is “eye contact.” If you do not make eye contact with a new acquaintance, it gives off the impression that you are distracted or have something to hide. People also relate to a person’s smile. It doesn’t have to be a big, Hollywood smile, but what I call a gentle smile. Combining a gentle smile with eye contact and a simple nod of the head sends out a signal of approval that what you are hearing is resonating in you in some way--and will keep a conversation going and opportunities flowing.

The chance to make a new connection can come and go in the blink of an eye.

What if a random stranger within earshot of you starts talking about something you are passionate about? Knowing what to say after you say hello will give you the confidence to start conversations with strangers anywhere--even on an airplane! For example, not long ago I was on a flight when I heard two people chatting about a “TED-Talk” they were on their way to see. (TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design) After they finished their conversation I followed one of the gentleman back to his seat, tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Hello. Excuse me, I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation a moment ago. Do you mind if I ask you a question about something I heard you say?”

After chatting for about 10 minutes, we exchanged business cards and we both had a new business contact. Knowing what to say after “Hello” gave me the opportunity and confidence to “network at 30,000 feet.” Imagine what your potential could be using these small talk techniques over the course of a few hours at a networking event on terra firma.

Don Gabor
Conversation Arts Media

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