10 Rules to Have Better Networking Conversations

Conversation is like a miniskirtI don’t know about you, but the next couple of months are a whirlwind of networking mixers and large conferences. It’s always great to connect with peers, meet new people and learn industry trends. However, for all the many benefits of these networking events, they also can be filled with pressure and social awkwardness. Whether you are the most gregarious person in the world or cringe at the very idea of being in a room full of strangers, we can all work harder to have better, more meaningful conversations. After all, you never know who you will meet, and where your paths might connect in the future.

I love TED talks, and there is a great one from Celeste Headlee, an award-winning journalist and speaker. In 10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation, Headlee outlines her rules for better conversations and why they matter.

  1. Don’t multi-task, be present in the moment. We’ve all had conversations with people who are distracted, either in thought or action, and it’s annoying. It’s not enough to simply look like you are paying attention, you need to be an active listener.
  2. Don’t pontificate. Assume that you have something to learn, don’t dominate the conversation by only talking about yourself and your opinions.
  3. Use open-ended questions. If you ask yes/no questions, you’re going to get short, yes/no answers. Getting people to describe the who/what/where/when/why of their story will lead to more interesting conversations.
  4. Go with the flow. If you are busy think about what you are going to say, or a question you wanted to ask, you’re not actively listening and responding to the conversation taking place in the moment. Let these thoughts drift, ebb and flow.
  5. If you don’t know, say that you don’t know. Talk should not be cheap. Don’t pretend to be an expert on a subject if you are not.
  6. Don’t equate your experience with theirs. Let the person tell their story, without interrupting (or bragging) about yours. Somebody once asked the great Stephen Hawking what his IQ was, and he responded, “I have no idea. People who brag about their IQs are losers.”
  7. Try not to repeat yourself. If you have a point to make, do it and move on. If you make the conversation all about you, it’s a monologue not a dialogue.
  8. Stay out of the weeds. Have you ever talked with someone who’s story takes so many tangential twists and turn that you can’t even follow what they are saying? People care about people, what you are like and what you have in common. Forget the details.
  9. Listen. It takes energy and effort to listen. Listen with intent, not simply wait for your opportunity to respond. As Calvin Coolidge once said, “No man ever listened himself out of a job.”
  10. Be Brief. Like Headlee’s sister says, “A good conversation is like a miniskirt; short enough to retain interest, but long enough to cover the subject.”

Go out and talk to people. Listen to people. Be prepared to be amazed. Click here to listen to Headlee’s full TED talk.

What are your tips for making the most of your networking conversations? We want to hear from you! Join the conversation on LinkedIn.