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The Question Everyone Hates
You’re at an industry event and get asked “So, what do you do?”
Would you rather take a bath with your grandfather than attend a networking event?
This used to be me. I was the “so, what do you do?” person and I also had to be metaphorically dragged kicking and screaming to events. Once I was there, my goal was to do a “Houdini” and slip away as quickly as possible, unnoticed.
Given the male-dominated industries I’ve worked in, I was often in the female minority. In addition, I only speak English as my first language and at most events I found it necessary to be multilingual in both football and cricket dialects.
At one point, a previous manager of mine even told me I should drink more at events… shocking, I know.
The “so, what do you do?” question is such a conversation killer, although most people are using it as a conversation starter. Some people hate their jobs. Some people don’t want to talk about their jobs. Most people are ‘more’ than just their jobs. This question can also end up in a fight for air-time so you can both talk about your jobs and how a-mazing you are at them. No one wins that fight.
Back then, I just couldn’t hold my own and was nervous about topics I wasn’t well versed in. I didn’t want to look like a fool in front of industry professionals (even though I was often a senior person at these events).
My move of slipping away quietly eventually became exposed and so I had to learn how to be a ‘stayer’ at these events. Here’s some of what I’ve learned and my 7 tips for being a Bold Networker.
1. Be interested, not interesting
By nature, people love talking about themselves, so ask questions to learn about others. Don’t talk about yourself and how wonderful you are, your company is etc.
2. Ask Bold questions
Swap “so, what do you do?” for:
- What would you be doing if you weren’t at this event tonight?
- Why did you come along here today?
- May I join you for a chat? What do you think about the topic for tonight’s speaker?
- Do you prefer to talk about industry stuff, or would you rather we workshop Game of Thrones, MAFS or The Bachelor?
- What are you currently binging on Netflix?
By asking about topics other than work, you’re a great person to talk to. Plus, these are safe topics that most people will find enjoyable.
3. Ask about kids
This usually comes up in answer to the first question in Point 2. If you also have kids, ask to see some photos. People love showing photos of their kids. Ask about their hobbies, school and family life.
But I don’t have kids
You can easily say, “I don’t have children, tell me about yours, what’s your family life like?” “What activities are they interested in?” “What’s your best parenting hack/advice?”
Remember, you are going to be “interested” not “interesting” so it’s great to ask questions about others.
TIP FOR NEW PLAYERS: You can also replace “kids” with “pets” and apply all the same rules.
4. Don’t fake it.
People can tell when you don’t know something. If you don’t know about a particular topic (ie politics always seems to freak people out), just say “that’s actually a topic I don’t know a lot about. How did you become interested in it?” Or “I don’t really follow politics that closely, tell me about your views on XX topic?”
5. Make it your mission to learn something fascinating about everyone you meet
Yes, everyone. Including any wait/event staff.
6. If you’re stuck talking to someone you’re not enjoying…
Never be rude. Always be kind. You’ll always be remembered if you blow someone off rudely.
Politely excuse yourself but be respectful about it, try “do you mind if I excuse myself, I would really like to meet XX, actually why don’t you come along with me.” Or, “I’ve just seen someone I wanted to catch up with, would you like me to introduce you?”
7. Ask them out
If you’ve genuinely enjoyed speaking with someone, ask them to follow up by saying “I’ve really enjoyed speaking with you today. Would you be happy to catch up again soon?”
When do I talk about my job?
So, what does all this have to do with “work” at networking?
The whole point of networking is “connecting, not collecting”. Make connecting with people your priority, rather than collecting business cards.
If you connect with people, you start to build a relationship and that, is how business begins.
Side point: one of my favourite and most popular workshops is “How to be a Bold networker”. Click here to ask me about it.