Networking: Small Talk or Worthless Talk?
Picture it: you walk into a huge room of people you don’t know. Everyone is in a blue or black suit. Everyone seems to know each other, except for you. You muster up the nerve to walk up to someone. “So it’s really cold outside today”, you say, in an attempt to strike up a conversation.
Sound familiar? Most people just don’t like the idea of networking. They equate it to dragging yourself to an event, going into a room full of people you don’t know and having to figure out how to get business from them.
Just about the only thing worse for people than all the above actions, is the dreaded conversation that comes with networking. I was talking to a client the other day and she called this casual small-talk, “worthless”. I was really surprised to hear her call it worthless, especially given she is CEO of a nonprofit that does so much good in communities. She’s all about helping people. So I knew it had nothing to do for her with being kind to people or not.
So I stopped to think, is it really worthless, this small-talk we have with people in networking events? If so, why? If not, then how can we re-classify it for ourselves so we can enjoy the process more.
For my client, the thought of worthless talk is so negative, she does not even show up at the networking events. That makes me really sad for her, knowing that she may be missing out on a golden opportunity and that others may be missing out on her.
I appreciate that we all act and react differently in these types of settings. It’s often been said how we act has to do with our nature. As Susan Cain masterfully writes in her book, “Quiet”, extroverts get energy from being in a room full of others.
I am your typical extrovert and I find myself in the minority regularly. I am the oddball that really enjoys walking into a room full of strangers. I love trying to get to know new people and learn about them and teach them, if I can. Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of moments when I, as the extrovert who loves getting to know strangers, don’t want to be around groups of people. I would rather be home alone snuggling on my couch with my dog. So I can imagine how bad it is for introverts.
Cain finds that introverts feel like all their energy is being drained from them when they are in a room full of others- especially people they don’t know. No wonder introverts (and most people I know) don’t want to be networking. Who wants their energy drained?!
However, getting out there and meeting people is not really optional. We need to do it if we run a business, are responsible for bringing in business AND if we are trying to find a friend and/or spouse.
What if we stopped and looked at small-talk as a different level of communication with people where our goal is to engage them at a basic level, impart basic knowledge and receive the same back? It doesn’t mean we are not being genuine if we talk about the weather, for instance. It just means we are beginning our communication with people at a more basic level, which can include dialogue about basic things, like the weather, traffic, what you had for lunch and the color of your jacket.
So next time you are out networking, make the conversation concept easy for yourself. Try thinking about your conversations as if there are levels. You have to start with the small-talk first in order to see if there is any possibility for deeper conversation afterwards.