A field guide to building relationships with a thoughtful, targeted approach.
If walking into a room full of people you barely know at a networking event makes your palms sweat, I know the feeling. It’s the same one I have as a sideline reporter every football season when faced with introducing myself to new players.
My job is to get post-game interviews win or lose. Which also means it’s my job to employ an effective networking strategy that allows me to build relationships with the guys in the locker room.
My networking efforts lead to sports talk. Your networking leads to business conversations. The topics are different, but the approach can be the same.
Here are five ways you can work a room.
Apply the best-intent approach. Give the person you’re talking to the benefit of the doubt. Assuming the worst changes the course of the conversation before you say a word. Very few people go into a conversation hoping it goes poorly, which means they don’t want to make you look bad or laugh at you. The best-intent approach recognizes that most people go into a networking conversation with the best intention to make a connection.
Use the power of observation. This is another way of saying “pay attention to your environment.” Just because you’re ready to have a conversation, make an introduction or follow up on a previous exchange doesn’t mean it’s the right time to do it. Body language and audience are big indicators. A person feverishly texting or someone already engaged in an intense conversation isn’t going to be eager to talk to you because they’re focused on a different interaction. Don’t force the issue just because the timing is right for you.
Implement the “buddy system.” This is one of my favorite strategies for introducing myself to new players in the Seahawks locker room. Here’s how it works: I’ll start a conversation with a “buddy,” a player I already know and with whom I have an established relationship. Less than two minutes into that conversation, I’ll include the player sitting closest to me in the discussion. As the discussion wraps up, I’ll introduce myself and make a connection with the new player. This approach works because it’s not all on me to make a good impression. I’m leveraging the credibility I have with one player (my buddy) to initiate a relationship with a new player.
Show restraint. Networking is not speed dating. Do not make it a goal to meet 15, 10 or even five people at a time, because it’s a waste of time. You’ll forget their names — and they’ll forget you because you don’t have real time to devote to conversations with 15 different people. It’s difficult to follow up with and stay on the radar of 15 people at a time. In a locker room, I limit myself to two to three introductions at a time. This allows me to execute my follow-up strategy and develop real relationships.
Prepare your answers. Make sure you’ve got something interesting to say when the conversation turns back to you. Being a good conversationalist and being prepared to engage in a thoughtful, relevant or interesting conversation allows you to make a connection, not just an introduction.
This networking strategy means you won’t be walking into a room just hoping for the best. You’ll have a thoughtful, targeted approach that works in any room.