Networking is All About the Questions You Ask
For me, October of 2019 was “Oktoberfest”, but not for the reasons you might think. Now, with the restrictions of COVID-19, when traveling feels like a vague memory, it is almost hard to believe that I spent most of last October travelling around the world. Instead of partying in Munich, I began the month with an off-site in Seattle, continued to a 10 -thousand attendees’ conference in Lisbon, and ended it with another off-site and a conference in Helsinki.
This super hectic month was like a roller coaster of lessons that took me a while to digest, but once I got it, I decided it will be most valuable to share them with you. In the following blog, I will share what I’ve learned about “networking on steroids”: or, how can we leverage the conferences we are attending to meet new people in an efficient way that will initiate new relationships and business opportunities?
Life begins at the end of your comfort zone
Our natural tendency is to choose what is familiar, since it increases our confidence. However, if we aim to grow and develop, we should create more and more experiences that are out of our comfort zone.
I attended Yael Arad’s talk a few months ago, where she shared her story and her excruciating preparations for competitions. When she goes for a run, she would sprint the last 500 meters to prove to herself that even when she thinks she has no more energy, she could always do more.
I’ve noticed that when I travel abroad, my habit is to hang with my team: they are familiar with my humour, and communicating in my mother tongue is more comfortable. However, real opportunities for new relationships and exciting initiatives happen when you speak with someone new, whether it’s someone from your global team or from a different company. There is something very refreshing and new in initiating a relationship with someone we do not work with on a regular basis. It makes us more focused on the details which can lead to more opportunities.
Why are questions so powerful?
Usually, we don’t have much time with the person we meet – conferences are hectic, and we want to meet as many people as possible. If we want to be useful and efficient, we have to make sure we ask questions that can provide us with essential information about the person, but still ask polite questions that are appropriate for someone we barely know. I think questions are the key to initiating a relationship (and also maintaining it) because they give the other side the opportunity to share and express themselves. Most people like to speak about themselves, and if you give them a chance to do so, and show real interest in what they are sharing, you will probably be able to create a strong base for the next meeting or follow up.
Planning these three business trips, I decided to start a new tradition in which I will have at least one meeting with someone new at each site. These days, I follow those same guidelines for Zoom meetings as well.
By the end of my meeting, I must have the answers to the following questions:
What is the meaning of her/his name? (It breaks the ice and helps me remember names).
Where he/she are coming from in the world? This gives you a geography lesson, in addition to a business meeting.
What does she/he do for fun? (initiating new relationships is based on getting to know each person we meet as a whole individual, and as a position they fill in their professional lives.
Looking forward, here are my two cents
I think the greatest lesson I’ve learned so far in my professional life is to keep in motion and test my method on a regular basis: like that old saying: “Practice makes perfect”. Whether it is with the Start-ups I met when I worked in Microsoft, or the new potential partners I meet these days in my new role at 3d Signals.
Keep asking new people you meet those questions: what’s the meaning of their name? where are they from, and what do they do for fun?. You will see that these questions will become part of your networking nature and will make it easier for you to expand your networking circles.
One thing is for sure: October 2019 was just the beginning of a journey of building and exceeding my network. The only difference is that in ultra-marathons we have a finish line, while here, each mountain top is only the base camp for the next climb.