This might come as a surprise from a major network news anchor, but I hate to, well, network. I’m an introvert at heart, and the thought of putting myself out there in a room full of people I don’t know makes me feel totally freaked out and out of control. Which is why, as dorky as it sounds, I like to plan ahead before I go, whether “there” is a room full of finance wonks or a one-on-one dinner with one of my she-ros (I have many!). Here are some of my favorite tips for crushing your next networking convo:
Who’s on first? Use someone’s first name when you address them. You look more engaged in what that person’s opinion actually is instead of just asking a generic question: “Hey, Anna, did you see any of the Oscars this weekend? Wowza did Angelina Jolie knock it out of the park again!”
Leave it open. Ask open-ended questions. If you ask, “were you able to find parking?” It’s a “yes” or “no” answer and then the conversation is over. Instead, say something like, “The parking lot is a mess. I’m thinking of taking the bs. Where are you commuting from and how do you get to work?”
Listen more than you talk. This concept applies to any part of your professional life. In this context, keep in mind that people like to talk about stuff they like (read: not the stuff you like). If you can tap into that, you’ll have a talker. Then, it’s up to you to pay attention; don’t zone out or think about your next question and instead ask natural follow ups to keep the conversation going.
If you’re still nervous about small talk like I was back in the day, practice by chit-chatting with everyone you encounter throughout the day: your barista, your hairstylist, you mailwoman, whoever. When in doubt, gab it out! Trust me: if we ever get the chance to hang out in real life, you’ll see that I literally talk to everyone I meet. Keeping that Chatty Cathy energy going will fuel it in others, too and you’ll have a great conversation going in no time. And the more you talk and get to know people, the more of a general rapport you develop and the more you become invested in them and vice-versa, which can pay dividends in unexpectedly great ways down the road.