For many, networking is an icky word. Necessary, but icky.
First, there’s always that feeling we get in the deep reaches of our gut that what we’re doing is a selfish and greedy effort. We’re not trying to make friends with these people, we just want to build our business, gain clients, expand our professional credits, or gain new contacts, etc.
Then there’s the fact that we need to sound interesting. We need to spark a real conversation with someone and do it when we’re feeling anything but real.
But authenticity in networking is critical because we want desperately to find real, authentic people we feel we can trust. Without authenticity, you can’t create real connections with people.
Fortunately, the right question can be the spark which makes authentic, productive conversation possible. With the right supply of questions in your tool belt your ability to network effectively increases tenfold.
Like a first date, all you need is a couple of great questions in hand and a receptive partner willing to meet you halfway. Once the spark is created, you’re off to the races and a real connection has been made.
Effective networking isn’t a result of luck – it requires hard work and persistence.
– Lewis Howes
This also helps you be more memorable, one of the critical components of effective networking. If they’re networking, or are someone of a level of importance that makes you want to reach out to them, chances are they meet a lot of people (like most of us), which means you need to stand out if you want your networking efforts now to pay off later.
That means the right question not only helps you network better on the front end, sparking more authentic conversation, but it helps you network on the back end as well.
Here are six questions you should ask in any networking situation.
1. What is your favorite thing to do?
People love talking about themselves.
Occasionally you’ll run into the rare exception, an exemplary listener who listens more than they speak. However, asking someone to open up about themselves is never a bad thing and it can help you find points of connection between you and the other person which is arguably the most important key to being memorable and getting people to like you.
We’ll talk more about this later, but this is a useful replacement to, “What do you do?”, the bane of all networking efforts and a question that really should die in a fire (in most cases).
2. Where are you from?
Asking something like, “Where are you from?” is useful because it allows you to collect vital information about a person you’ve likely just met.
One potential problem when meeting a stranger is you don’t know who they are, so you don’t know what their hot buttons might be. You don’t know what tragedy has stricken their life, what they hate because of a bad past experience, what their religion or political affiliation is, any number of critical information.
Asking them some version of, “Where are you from?” won’t get you all of that information, but it will help you learn more about them as a person and surmise a lot of similarly valuable information, helping you identify topics to steer clear from, move towards, and things you have in common with the other person.
There are several versions of this question you can ask, as from the basic version:
- Where did you attend college?
- Where did you grow up?
- Where are you located?
3. How can I help you?
“How can I help you?” isn’t just a question you should consider asking in many networking situations, it’s a question you should ask yourself of the person as well.
Approaching a networking opportunity or event with the intention of offering value to the person or persons you’re trying to connect with is one of the most effective networking strategies available to you.
“How can I help [PERSON]” is a question you can use to create value for the potential connection, arguably the best way of networking with a busy professional who already has dozens (or more) other people trying to vie for their time because it helps you stand out.
This question, and perspective, immediately lets the other person know you’re not like most people. You’re not just in it for yourself.
And, like asking them what their favorite thing to do is, asking how you can help them can spark a refreshingly authentic conversation and make someone more willing to open up to you.
4. What do you recommend I do while I’m here?
In networking situations where you’re traveling, the dynamic is quite different than when you’re at home. This mostly just means that there are many additional opportunities to spark interesting and useful conversation threads.
Asking some version of, “I’ve never been in [LOCATION]. What do you recommend I do, or where should I go, while I’m here?” allows you to not only gain insights about the location, which may help your business and general knowledge of the location, it can help create friends in that new location and open things up to the possibility of building a relationship with the person, whether they have some direct relation to your business in the location or are just a potentially useful contact.
5. What made you decide to X?
“What do you do?” is a pretty common networking question if the situation sees you conversing with strangers, whether it’s a common networking event or a dinner with power players in a particular industry or of a common friend (birthday, etc.).
It’s also one of the worst.
The problem is the question, and typically the answer, have nothing to do with who someone really is. Especially the parts that interest them about themselves and their life.
The answer to “What do you do?”, for most people, doesn’t tell you anything about the person. Instead, “What made you decide to do/become/get into X?” opens things up for them to tell their story and this will tell you far more about them as a person and what interests them, helping you create a connection with them in the process.
6. What resources have been invaluable to you for personal and professional growth?
This question has less to do with them and more clearly to do with what you can absorb from them.
However, the question is presented in a way that allows them to open up more about their own story and the things that have shaped them into the person they are today, the perfect way to spark meaningful conversation.
In addition to this, the obvious value to you is that you’re able to dig up valuable resources, be they books, courses, talks, or people who all may provide you similar value, helping you grow as a person, build your business, or develop your craft.