The other night I attended a business-networking event where I sat at dinner with six women I’d never met before. Being a leisurely event on an outdoor patio, I decided I’d just enjoy getting to know some interesting new people and not worry about doing the usual networking business talk about my company.
But as soon as there was a lull in the speeches, the woman at the opposite end of the table, directed her attention to me and asked in a loud voice, “What do you do?” Everyone else fell silent at that moment, their eyes upon me. Not missing a beat, I defaulted to my typical networking knee jerk response — I talked about my business, essentially making my elevator pitch. Responding in this way seems to work well at standup networking events where the goal is to walk around the room and connect with as many people as you can.
In this situation though, I felt like I was holding forth to a trapped audience, who were unable to move on because of the appointed table seating. Fortunately, I was finally interrupted by others at the table asking me questions. And in the end, we had some interesting conversations on a variety of topics, other than our businesses. Yet in my mind, here was a missed opportunity. We could have chatted first about our lives, our kids, new shoes, summer vacations, whatever. And then eased into the business conversations. Ultimately, it would have been more satisfying for everyone.
After all, networking isn’t just about exchanging business cards and making elevator pitches; it’s really about creating a connection, a relationship between people. Making that connection is a whole lot more likely to happen if you speak to another person, as exactly that, — as another person — rather than a potential client or business partner.
So at your next networking event, why not try the following kinds of responses when someone asks, “what do you do?” They may just be the icebreaker that works.
What do you say when someone asks, “What do you do?”
– “I like to (fill in the blank): walk my dog/eat cherry ice cream/run marathons/spend time with my kids/steal the remote from my husband so I don’t have to watch sports.”
– “I like spending my leisure time reading /watching movies. What are YOU reading/watching right now?”
– “I confess I get nervous when asked that question. Crazy, but true I know, since I often attend networking events. What kinds of things make you nervous?”
-“I like my work, and I’d love to tell you about it. But first, I’m curious. Where did you get those shoes/purse/iPad case?”
You get the idea. Have fun. Use your imagination. Don’t take it too seriously. And before you know it, you may end up making your elevator pitch anyway, but it won’t sound like one, it will just sound like one person, talking to another.