There’s something to be said for being a good talker. But while it’s easy to gab away with people you already know, how do you get a conversation going with somebody new?
While some will say networking is about asking the right questions, pro networkers from Baltimore Innovation Week 2019 say it’s more than just breaking the ice with a good question, it’s all about the approach you take to the opportunity to make connection.
Here are six tips gathered from expert networkers at the many events and happy hours during BIW19 so you can improve your networking approach:
Dave Parks, owner and creative director, Dew Point Media
“Get there early so that you get in the right headspace and are ready to meet people when they arrive. It helps you get established in the room, you can scope it out, get to know who comes in at certain times,” Parks said. “It puts you in a mental state that psychologically, gives you a hand up over the people who are getting there 15-20 minutes late, making it easier to approach people.”
Wendy Bolger, director, Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Loyola University Maryland
“Sit down next to somebody that you haven’t met yet. Then you can start a conversation about the panel or the speaker,” Bolger said. “There’s so much commonality between the folks who show up to these kinds of events that you will always find a lot to talk about and make a new contact or a new friend.”
Jay Nwachu, president and chief innovation officer, Innovation Works
“Don’t undervalue the people who are around you,” Nwachu said. “Sometimes we think about a network being really really far away, but the people who are closest to us, are just but one degree away from what we may need. Start by sharing your stories with the people who are closest to you — your neighbors, the person in the office next to you, the parents of the other kids in your child’s classroom — they may actually get us to a place faster than trying to stalk people at networking events and happy hours.”
“I used to hate networking, because I didn’t really understand what the value was,” Gosling said. “And it was just so awkward to talk to people I didn’t know. But then the more I did it, the more I realized how valuable it really is. Sometimes you have to do stuff that feels uncomfortable, but you have to keep doing it. Networking is just like anything else. The more you do it, the better you get at it.”
Liz Creter, associate, graduate development program, Healthworx at CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield
“I never approach two people who are talking just to each other,” Creter said. “Because you’re never really sure what they’re talking about — it could be personal, they could be old friends. It is awkward to be the third wheel. So I usually either approach people who are standing alone or who are standing in big groups because it’s easier to get in and start a conversation that way.”
Chris College, managing partner at TCP Venture Capital
“You have to put in the hours to be able to find the people that have great ideas, spend time with them, meet with them, nurture the idea,” College said. “You’ve got to spend the time, it’s like any other job. If you’re a runner, or an athlete, or a football player, you’ve got to put in the training time and spend time with people.”