Friday, March 3, 2017

Making Friends At Cocktail Parties - Taking the "Work" out of "Networking"

Networking events are often awful experiences because people are there "working," not having fun and making new friends. You should be at these events to make friends, because in the long run we help out our friends, not strangers with business cards. Here are a few tips to make new friends at events:

Adversity creates the best bonding moments.

Overcoming even the most minor obstacles can create a "bonding moment" between you and a stranger:

1.  Running to catch the elevator
2.  Searching for the coatcheck
3.  Being the first few to arrive or last few to leave
4.  Arriving late and waiting out in the hall for the opportune moment to enter a room
5.  Waiting your turn to speak to a panelist after a discussion

These anxiety producing moments are great moments to make friends. A well placed joke or even a simple introduction and handshake can alleviate anxiety for you and your new friend. Especially when this moment happens early in the evening, you'll have someone in the room you "know" to follow up with later.

Mystery makes you more attractive.

When you meet someone new, the initial encounter should be relatively brief. Don't linger. Leave some mystery and something to talk about either later in the evening or when you follow up after the event. There is nothing worse than a hostage situation or shadow early into the evening. The initial introduction and conversation should have a natural end, but also take cues from your new friend (fidgeting... looking around the room....long pauses...).

If you plan on being at the event for a while, no need to ask for a business card or contact information right away. It gives you an excuse to seek the person out for a second encounter "Hey, before I go, do you have a card?"

Did your new friend leave before you exchanged information? No worries, you'll likely see them at another similar event and you'll already have an opener "Hi Tony, I'm Lex. We met at the Black History Month panel discussion in February." Please don't put the person on the spot to remember your name or the event. Give them the tools they need to succeed.

The Questions you ask can Make or Break your friendship.

No one likes feeling like their value is being assessed by their responses to your questions. Friendship is in many ways unconditional or, at least, not conditioned on the same set of criteria as business relationships.

Questions to Avoid

  • What do you do?  Where do you work?  Where did you go to school? 
While these initial questions may seem like a search for commonality, there is judgement in them. If the conversation is flowing naturally, your new friend will answer these questions without you asking.
  • Are you here with someone? Who do you know here?
Not only did you remind the person that they are a friendless loser, but you are moving the conversation from your relationship to a relationship between your new friend and someone else. If the person is with someone, they may feel compelled to go check in with the person and leave the conversation.

Questions to Ask

  • How did you hear about this event? What did you think of the panel discussion?
These are interest questions. They show that you care about your friend's thoughts and interests. A similar question for a panelist or event host would be how the person got involved with the organization hosting the event.
  • Have you met ....? 
This is a question for a little further into your conversation. An introduction means you value your new friend so much just for being themselves that you want others to know how great your new friend is. Even if it turns out that no introduction is necessary, you two have found a new point of commonality in your mutual friend.
  • Follow on questions generally
Once your friend introduces topics like where they work or went to school, it is appropriate to ask interest-based follow on questions like "What did you study?" or "How did you decide to go into farming?"

The information you provide about yourself is more important than the questions.

Railing on about the school you attended or the rigors of your profession has the same effect as the "what do you do?" question. It signals that you place value on these things and measure yourself and others by how these things rank in your book. In the same way you ask interest-based questions, you should provide interest-based information and weave in the career and education details. 

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Networking is usually awkward and full of uncertainty, but now you'll have a new approach and an advantage over others in the room. You are not there to "work" but to make new friends. Please let us know how it goes below in the comments!

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