Twelve Steps to a Great Networking Conversation

Posted 03.11.2011

Networking-coffee A couple of years ago, I wrote a post called Five Principles for Building a Strong Network. It proved to be pretty popular and I’ve been practicing and coaching on those principles ever since.  Today, I want to share twelve steps to having a good networking conversation.  With the idea in mind that experience is the best teacher, I’m going to draw on some lessons learned from networking conversations I’ve had lately both as both the inviter and the invitee. 

Consider this as one person’s step by step process to a great conversation.  You may have your own (and I’d love to hear them), but here are mine:

Step 1:  Build on what you have in common – When you make the request for a call or meeting, you have to answer the question the other person is asking themselves, “What’s in it for me?”  Make that easier by referring to work you’ve done together and people or interests you have in common.

Step 2:  Prepare in advance – Take time to consider your goals for the conversation.  Think about what you want to ask the other person.  Jot down your key questions.  Visualize how you want to show up in terms of your energy level and how you engage.

Step 3:  Say thank you – Begin by thanking the other person for their time and for what they’ve done already.

Step 4:  Ask them about themselves and their work –  Doing so shows you care and are interested in them.  It also gives you the opportunity to learn things that might be important to the rest of the conversation.

Step 5:  Clearly state what you’re working on or trying to do – Make it easy for the other person to help you by clearly and succinctly describing what you’re working on or trying to do.  Don’t make them guess.

Step 6:  Take notes – If you’re fortunate, you’ll get a lot of great ideas from the other person.  Ask if they mind if you take notes (there’s a 99% chance that they won’t) and start taking them.  You’ll have a record of what to follow up on and it also shows that you value what they have to say.

Step 7: Be open and flexible – Yes, it’s important to have a plan in mind for the conversation but in the words of the great philosopher, Mike Tyson, “Everybody’s got a plan until they get hit.”  In a great networking conversation, you never know what kind of interesting subjects and opportunities are going to come up.  Roll with it and stay open to the possibilities.

Step 8:  Make offers of your own – If you do a good job of listening, you should see opportunities to make some offers that can help the other person.  That might be sharing some information that could help them, offering a perspective on how they could grow their business, introducing them to someone who could help them or any number of things.  You want to keep the balance of credits and debits in the conversation feeling roughly equivalent.

Step 9:  Relax and have fun – When you get right down to it, a networking conversation is just a talk between two human beings.  As former Notre Dame football coach likes to say, “They put their pants on the same way we do.”  Don’t freak yourself out with your perceived stakes of the conversation.  Relax and have fun with it.

Step 10:  Respect their time – Everybody’s busy these days. As the agreed upon end time for your meeting draws near, acknowledge it and start wrapping things up.  If the conversation is really rocking and the other person is engaged, you can perhaps go a few minutes longer but no more.  If there’s more to talk about, agree to schedule another conversation. 

Step 11:  Say thank you again – It’s the polite thing to do.

Step 12:  Follow up – Be prompt in your follow up.  Send anything you committed to send within the next 24 hours.  Sort through your notes and prioritize the ideas you want to follow up on yourself.  Get them into your calendar or onto your to-do list.

So, what did I miss?  What ideas would you add to have a great networking conversation?