Starting conversations in a networking setting can be nerve-wracking and sometimes awkward. This is especially true if you are an introvert by nature and actively approaching and chatting up strangers drains your energy.
Nevertheless, as a startup founder working behind closed doors is rarely a good idea. Connecting with different people is crucial for reaching success for a multitude of reasons.
Obviously, you need to reach out actively in order to find partners, investors, advisors, employees, etc. Equally importantly, however, reaching out is your primary tool to gather feedback about your project from people with different perspectives. Doing this could prevent you from making a lot of mistakes.
Consequently, the best thing you can do is to put yourself out there and try to connect with people. Here are three tips on how to make this process easier and more effective.
1. Prepare A Few Context-Appropriate Conversation Openers
If you are shy, it might be much easier to approach people if you know in advance what you want to say. Consider what the context is of the networking opportunity and prepare a few lines.
For example, if you are attending the event, it could be something as simple as asking
“What brings you to this event?”, or ask the person you are starting the conversation with about the event (e.g. panel, presentation) both of you saw.
2. Follow Up By Asking Questions
After opening the conversation, the best way to keep it going is to show interest in the person you are talking to – try to find out about their project, job, opinions, etc. Most people are quite happy to talk about themselves, so it is a great idea to use this to your advantage.
Active listening and tactical empathy in a networking context are very powerful tools.
It is crucially important, however, not to fake interest only to sneak your real agenda into the conversation.
“The currency of real networking is not greed but generosity.”– Keith Ferrazzi
The reason you are talking to them is to find out if you can create value for them. Like all relationships, professional relationships require reciprocity. Because of this, it’s appropriate to try to provide some value first as you are the one initiating the conversation and forming the relationship.
The worst thing you can do while networking is to seem needy.
“You can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want” – Zig Ziglar
3. Keep Trying
“I’m convinced that about half of what separates successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.” – Steve Jobs
While this quote from Steve Jobs is mostly about persevering through hardships and failure, showing real consistency and stamina in doing what you need to do is also important.
In the context of networking, this is true because of two main reasons.
First, attempting to connect with a greater number of people simply gives you a higher probability of finding people that fit you well.
Second, as with any skill, you get better at networking as you practice more. Actively communicating with people is a skill like any other – treat your attempts as needed exercise. This way even if when your attempts are not fruitful, they make you a better communicator for next time.
People skills are extremely important for startup founders. Actively reaching out to people and trying to have genuine, interesting, and productive conversations is a great way to develop some of these skills and become more fluent in the art of conversation and connection.