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Networking Secrets: It's Not What You Say, It's What You Ask!Networking Secrets: It's Not What You Say, It's What You Ask!

By Julia HubbelBy Julia Hubbel

According to networking expert Julia Hubbel, about 75% of us are uncomfortable with networking. "Most of us are afraid of rejection," she explains. "We don't like to walk up to strangers, try to start a conversation and be put off, so many of us don't even want to take the chance." However, that lack of initiative is expensive when it comes to sales people, entrepreneurs and business people. One's ability to walk up and start a conversation in any social event is critical, especially in today's fast moving environment. "If you can't create a connection, you're crippled. The truth is that it's easier than most people think. And most people don't realize that everyone else is probably as scared to start the conversation as they are. The person who starts the conversation is the hero," she says.

Body Language
Hubbel says that most of the people you meet want to meet you, too. Make it easy to approach you. "So many people don't realize that their body language and their facial expressions are keeping people away from them. Stand up straight, keep your shoulders back, your arms open and smile! An open, warm expression on your face says to people that you're approachable. When you've crossed your arms across your body and you're not smiling, that says, 'stay away from me.' Body language is the first thing that people see. Make it warm and friendly." Hubbel offers the following advice for succeeding at networking.

Ritual Questions
When you first walk up to people, smile and say hello, and offer your name and ask for the other person's name. Shake hands. You may or may not immediately exchange business cards- it depends on cultural norms, in which case you may spend some time acknowledging and valuing the card and the information on that card.

Ritual questions are light conversation about the things that you have in common: the weather, the environment, local events. If you're at a conference or just heard a speaker, ask the other person's opinion. You may have an industry in common. You can talk about the city, major happenings in the world, sports, or other topics of common interest. Ask what others think to get them talking. Avoid asking yes or no questions, which leaves you with more silence to deal with. You might ask questions like:

-In what ways has this (city, country, area) changed?
-What brings you to our city?
-What was your opinion of our last speaker?
-What industry do you work in?

If they're carrying a book, you might ask them about it. "I see you're reading ___________. I'm interested in what you think about it." The idea is to get them to talk about themselves, and then to offer information about yourself for them to respond to as well. Be aware that some people may not wish to talk about their work or find that question intrusive so be willing to talk about other subjects and redirect to something else.

Go Deeper
Let's say you're in an animated conversation but then it starts to slow down a bit. Or maybe you don't much care for superficial banter, and you prefer to really connect with people. Try taking it to another level with questions like these:

-What are some things you're passionate about? Or,
-What are the kinds of things you'd get up at 5 am on a Saturday morning to do?
-What really intrigues you about your work?
-What's the biggest challenge you're facing right now?
-What kinds of customers do you deal with?

These questions will get people really thinking about themselves and their work in a wholly different way, and will lead to a deeper conversation. You will need to respond at the same level about yourself and your work, too, so don't ask unless you're willing. Questions like this allow you to explore ideas, ideals, your concepts about work and much more. They also lead to friendships. People's passions are varied and surprising, and they can connect us across race and gender in ways that few other things can do. Sports like skydiving or pursuits like chess bring together diverse people and make friends across any culture and background.

Focus your energy on getting the other person to relax and talk about themselves, not to worry about being witty and entertaining. You will be a great conversationalist because you don't dominate the conversation. Be well read, and always have a supply of great questions. Make others feel the center of your attention. Don't look around the room for someone more important. You never know who those people know, after all. When you're in the habit of asking, you might just find out. That's the habit that takes you to the top!

Leave them feeling larger
When you've learned something intriguing about your conversational partner, take a moment to say something complimentary to them. Say "I admire what you've accomplished" or "I'm impressed by that" or similar words which indicate that you've been affected by their words. It only takes a moment of your time, but your words of praise have great impact on others. It is the essence of charisma to have people walk away from us feeling better about themselves. When we make this a habit, we will build a reputation for being gracious, powerful and charismatic people.

When you get in the habit of asking, conversations will become easier and much more natural to you. People will begin to open up around you. You will find people fascinating because they are telling you interesting things about themselves. They will return the favor and ask you to talk about yourself as well. Before you know it you will have new friends and business contacts everywhere who are eager to hear from you again. They will introduce you to their friends and business associates- because you're such a great conversationalist!

Happy networking!


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