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Building Business Relationships in a Roomful of Strangers

You approach a stranger at an association meeting or industry conference with you arm outstretched and say: "Hi. My name is?.." And you're off and running.

There's an art to successful networking and business development. Rather than just exchange pleasantries you can gather information, gain allies, and explore potential opportunities. Here are ten tips to help you connect with people immediately, develop meaningful conversations and move on to profitable relationships.

  • Come prepared. Have two or three openers that you can use with a variety of people you meet. That way, you won't fumble for something to say when you first meet someone. Some examples: "What drew you here today? "Have you seen any good movies lately?" "What did you find particularly interesting about the presentation?"
  • Do your homework. Before attending a meeting or networking event, find out the names and backgrounds of key people who will be there. Also note any recent achievements that they have attained. When you arrive, look for someone official and request an introduction to one of them. Offer your congratulations and ask a question that will get them talking about their background or achievement.
  • Create an agenda. People often dread small talk situations because they say, "I don't have anything to talk about" or "I don't know what to talk about." Actually the problem is that there have too much to talk about-an entire universe of topics-not nothing to say. Narrow down your conversation options by making two lists.
  • On the get list put what you want to find, understand or learn more about. Maybe it's connections into xyz company, or where to get inexpensive office supplies, or recommendation for the best Mexican restaurant in town.

    On your give list put your ideas, areas of expertise, hobbies, people you know, ideas for weekend jaunts with kids, your experience on developing a company website or a great article on bringing down the cost of doing business, etc.

    Going into a room with a prepared agenda---information you want to get and information you are happy to give---provides a focus for your networking and a direction for your conversations.

  • Enter a room confidently. Next time you're at a social or business gathering, notice how people come into a room. Do they come in head high, smiling, and upbeat or eyes down, serious and scared? Are they sending out signals that say: "I'm approachable" or "Don't talk to me." When you enter a room, what signals do you send out to others?
  • Listen and learn. Once you've asked your opening question, listen patiently to the person's answer. Allow the speaker to elaborate without rushing to jump in. Be thinking, "What can I give to this person? What's on my agenda?"
  • Focus your attention. Avoid the canned nod-and-smile approach with eyes roaming the room to see who else is there. Continue to ask engaging questions. If you're friendly and genuinely curious, others will feel comfortable talking with you.
  • Find common ground. Only after the person has told "his story", then share your thoughts and experiences. If you find something you both can relate to, that establishes a bond that can lead to further exchanges. Be open to the magic of where the conversation can take you.
  • Ask for their help. Most people enjoy helping others. Therefore what is it that you want to "get"? Use your agenda to find someone who has written an article you've enjoyed, or can introduce you to the speaker, or give you ideas for your upcoming project.
  • Show appreciation. At some point, you will feel that it's time to move on because the discussion is winding down or perhaps the event is starting. Don't leave abruptly. Rather, acknowledge the conversation and the help you've received. "It's been good to talk with you. Thanks for the job lead. I plan to call him tomorrow." Or, "Glad to have met you and to hear about the upcoming conference."
  • Explain the next step. If you want to continue the relationship, conclude with what you're going to do next or what you expect of the other person.

    "I'll send you that article tomorrow."
    "I'll see you at the next meeting."
    "Let's set up a time when we can get together to go over the program."

  • Preparation, a focused agenda, active listening, and an adventuresome attitude are the keys to successfully meeting and greeting a roomful of strangers. Remember, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

    Marcia Zidle, the 'people smarts' coach, works with business leaders to quickly solve their people management headaches so they can concentrate on their #1 job ­ to grow and increase profits. She offers free help through Leadership Briefing, a weekly e-newsletter with practical tips on leadership style, employee motivation, recruitment and retention and relationship management. Subscribe by going to http://leadershiphooks.com/ and get the bonus report "61 Leadership Time Savers and Life Savers". Marcia is the author of the What Really Works Handbooks ­ resources for managers on the front line and the Power-by-the-Hour programs ­ fast, convenient, real life, affordable courses for leadership and staff development. She is available for media interviews, conference presentations and panel discussions on the hottest issues affecting the workplace today. Contact Marcia at 800-971-7619.

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