Conversation skills for shy and nervous networkers

Extract from the book – How to Master Networking by ROBYN HENDERSON

 Mastering the art of conversation can help you to become a more effective networker. Many people have an absolute fear of talking to strangers and this fear is generally unfounded. When some people arrive at a networking function, possibly they may feel a little nervous because they may not think they know many people attending. For some its as if they leave their personality at the venue doorstep.

They are unable to start or finish conversations and usually have a miserable time. They leave vowing to never return and avoid those networking events at all costs. However, back in their comfort zone, they can express opinions on just about anything and rarely allow themselves to feel intimidated by anything or anyone.

 So we may surmise that it is actually our nerves and fear of meeting strangers that sometimes gets the better of us at these events. Therefore to improve my networking skills, it will help dramatically if you work on improving your conversation skills.

 Think about some of the better communicators in your networks, what makes them different? Is it that they:

     *      listen to your answer

     *      allow you to finish your response without interrupting

     *      make eye contact

     *      genuinely act as if they do care about your answer

     *      somehow make you feel special

     *      follow up when they say they will

     *      often offer helpful suggestions to you, but not in a know-it-all fashion

     *      can often remember snippets of previous conversations you may have had

 The one thing that each of these great communicators do, is they make a heart to heart connection with you. This is not in a romantic sense, rather  they focus on you and the conversation you are having together. Whether there are 1 or 5 people in the group, they are focussed on the general conversation. They are not distracted they are “in the moment” or “in the now”. When we speak from our heads, we often become flustered and nervous, stumbling over words. We are so worried about what we are going to say next, or what that word means, or am I wearing the right clothes, etc. . etc. .  All this head stuff happening and anyone having a conversation with us, just thinks we are uninterested in their answers and distracted.

 When we make that heart to heart connection, we listen actively to the conversation. We don’t have to worry about what we are going to say next, because when we are listening, we receive lots of cues for responses or more questions. Often if we are quiet  long  enough, we can even learn lots of things.

 Think for a moment of the last time you had a conversation with someone over the phone and you knew, possibly by the background noise or by their distracted manner, that they were not listening to you, their mind was elsewhere. They were definitely not in the now.

Now think about a phone conversation with someone who was in the now and listened actively and with a focus. More often than not, the conversation was quality not quantity. You both kept to the point, said what you had to say and agreed on an outcome. Conversations at networking events are no different to phone conversations, we want to feel that the person we are speaking to is in fact listening.

 Effective networkers have a belief system that every single person that they meet is incredibly interesting and has much to contribute to any conversation. They may have a couple of open ended questions prepared, e.g.

     *      What was the highlight of your weekend/day/holiday?

     *      What tips would you give someone, who has never attended one of these events before?

     *      I may already know someone who could do business with you, what

            would your ideal client look like?

     *      Whats your opinion of . . . ..

     *      Whats your favourite. . . . .. restaurant, movie, sport

     *      Your …… looks great, where did you buy your . . .. , (jacket, tie, shoes, etc.)

     *      What do you like most about your.. . . .. . job, home, living in . .. ., etc.

 Once the conversation starts, it generally flows, when you focus on that heart to heart connection. The key to  making the connection is basically you are treating people the way you would like to be treated. If you knew everyone in the room and a stranger walked into the room, what would they be hoping someone in the room would do? Befriend them of course, just as they would do if positions were reversed.

So the next time you see a person standing alone and possibly looking a little nervous or out of place, talk to them.

“Hi, my name is Robyn, mind if I join you?” or even better, catch their eye and invite them to join your group.

 If by chance you befriend someone who does not want to join in your conversation, thats okay, at least you extended the hand of friendship to them.  If all of this conversation making still sounds a little bit daunting, take heart. Every day aim to have a quality heart to heart connection, even for only 60 seconds with someone who crosses your path. Maybe it will be the newsagent, the garage attendant, bank teller, supermarket check out operator – basically any stranger you come into contact with. Ask a general question and listen to their answer with your heart, not your head. See how easily the conversation flows.

 Don’t be surprised if pretty soon you are receiving compliments about being a great conversationalist.  Trust me, with a little practice, you will start to see yourself as the interesting person that other people see you as.

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