The Entrepreneur Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in America’s startup scene contribute answers to timely questions about entrepreneurship and careers. Today’s answer to the question “What are some tips that promise success at networking events?” is written by Joel Holland, founder and CEO of VideoBlocks.
First, let’s get something straight: Networking is for routers and Ethernet cables. I used to loathe networking events because they felt genuinely robotic and transactional. Eventually, I came to accept that networking sucks, and anyone who claims to enjoy it is lying.
On the other hand, having meaningful conversations with strangers can be quite enjoyable and productive. The difference is all in how you approach your conversations.
First, ditch the small talk. It can be easy to fall into the trap of mindless drivel that is sports and weather, but it accomplishes nothing and leaves an impression similar to that of a stale vanilla wafer.
Speaking of stale cookies, chances are you’re dressed like most of the others in the room, about the same age, and likely even working in a similar industry. Put bluntly, at first blush you’re not that interesting. Fortunately, though, each one of us has something that we are really passionate about, and will happily gush about it if given the opportunity. When you’re passionate, you come across as genuine, and it’s easier for the listener to connect with you.
When I first started attending networking events, I would focus conversations around my business. I can imagine most listeners left thinking, “That wafer was all carbs and no protein—can’t wait to forget him in 10 minutes.”
Now I almost always find a way to talk about how I own an RV and am on a mission to see and shoot stock footage of all 49 connected U.S. states, with frequent stops to tailgate some awesome events along way. This always kicks the conversation into an interesting gear, sparking other road trip stories to start flowing.
People love stories. So while you’re winding up to talk about your fiery passion for something, don’t just vomit adjectives and dreams. Regale your listeners with a short narrative.
Now when I attend events, I’m often introduced as “the guy I was telling you about who owns an RV and is shooting video of cool stuff all over America for his company” (bonus points if you can find a way to connect the dots between your passion and your work).
It is important to remember that people like talking about themselves, so don’t steal all of the limelight. Tell your story, and once the conversation is lively, turn over the mic. The best trick I’ve learned to be a good listener: Try to learn something from every conversation. This will force you to ask good questions and pay attention to the answers.
Finally, don’t forget to smile. It is one of the six tips author Dale Carnegie gives in How to Win Friends and Influence People, and plenty of studies have backed this up: Smiling makes you look more attractive, more approachable, and more likeable.