When you’re out networking, keeping the conversation light is important when you’re first meeting people. You know how there are forbidden first date topics? First impressions in business networking involve a similar list.
Remember, your goal is to make new business connections for customers or referrals. It is not to enter into a passionate political debate. If the conversation cannot conclude in a few minutes, it’s probably not ideal for a networking event.
Topics that are Off Limits
Just like dating, try to avoid the following topics:
- Deeply personal facts
Here’s a few others I’ve compiled that are more relevant in a business setting and why:
Anything negative about your business. As an entrepreneur, your career satisfaction is going to ebb and flow. That’s just how it is. If you’re currently not completely satisfied with how your business is doing, you unfortunately need to keep that to yourself in the networking environment. Saying or implying your business is doing poorly will make people want to avoid sending you work. The assumption is if you’re good at what you do, you wouldn’t be struggling. Therefore, you must be bad at what you do.
Illnesses. People feel icky when you talk about illnesses. It doesn’t matter if you have it, had it, or if it’s even contagious. People have bad associations and they’ll connect those with you. Just avoid this if you can.
Competitors. There’s no good way to discuss your competitors in any way and come out looking good. Either you’re bad talking them, comparing yourself to them, or just looking bad. If people compare to them, simply dismiss it and turn the conversation back to your business. “Oh, I don’t pay attention to how XYZ corp does things. I’m too busy giving my clients the best services around.”
Gossip. Gossip isn’t good in any situation. It’s worse in a business one. If you’re talking about someone behind their back, your listeners are wondering what you’re saying about them when they aren’t around. Don’t associate your business with gossip.
It’s not all bad. There are plenty of good topics you can talk about. In fact, basically anything that makes you a likeable and trustworthy person is a good topic. The easiest way to do this is keep the conversation about the person you’re talking to. Ask in depth questions. Really get to know them.
Let the Crazy Out Slowly
“Let the crazy out slowly” is a funny phrase used in dating. It basically means you should share the bad slowly over time. That way your connection gets to know the good and the bad. Therefore, they’re not overwhelmed with the bad all at once. Everyone has the “crazy” as this phrase is talking about. However, not everyone lets every bit of it out at once.
The Ideal Conversation
Now, because we’re human, our conversations aren’t going to follow a perfect pattern every time. However, here’s a basic guideline for how your conversation should go at an event.
“Hi, I’m Richard. [Hold out hand for handshake].”
Both: “Pleasure to meet you.”
Richard: “What do you do?”
Jewel: “I’m a financial advisor for Northwestern Mutual.” [gives information about what she does there]
Richard: “Great. I’m a lawyer and I do a substantial amount of estate planning. I think we could help each other out through referrals, and I’d love to discuss that one on one in the near future if you’d like?”
Jewel: “That would be great.”
[Exchange business cards]
Both: “I look forward to connecting with you.”
At events, short and sweet are ideal. You’re there to try to make several potential connections. Later, at the one-on-one meeting, you make the real connection.