Um, there’s no delicate way to put this…

Do you talk too much?  Is your head wired such that every thought must be uttered?  Do you nervously talk because silence in social situations scares you?  Do you interpret that silence as people being bored with you and, rather than having to deal with that thought, you talk more to keep it out of your mind?  It’s called social anxiety and it’s quite common.  So relax – you’re not the only one.

Nonetheless, it’s probably impeding your outcomes at networking events.  So, let’s attempt to get you zipping it and deriving the benefits that come from this.

In a networking setting, the people who derive the most benefit are the listeners.  Listeners take in information and learn from it.  They filter the noise they like from the noise they don’t and use it to their advantage down the track.  They ask questions and develop a picture of who the other person is so they may be able to help them later with a connection or opportunity.  This builds up their store of goodwill which comes back later in spades.

But if you’re a born talker and you struggle to overcome reverting to type in a networking environment, how do you suddenly become a listener?  Well, here’s a simple technique that may assist you to adjust your ways and deliver benefits in the long run.

Prepare questions.

Simple, right?  Questions force you to listen for the answer.  Social pressure builds up after a question is asked and acts like a bulldog clip on your lips!  You can just about see your mother waving a finger at you saying, “You’ve-asked-a-question-now-wait-for-the-answer!” 

And if you still don’t trust yourself not to jump in and answer your own question, put a stick of celery in your mouth!  It’s rude to talk with your mouth full and doing so makes your mother want to reappear!  Ugh.

Questions and answers form the basis of conversations at networking events and some people are more adept at asking the right questions than others.  So, for those of you who are not confident in coming up with the right questions, here’s a short list that will quickly get you to the heart of the matter…

What plans do you have for your business?  Most people have plans to grow their business.  Listening to these plans will present opportunities to help for keen listeners.  Isn’t that why you’ve come?

Tell me about your business achievements?  Ladies, we’re pretty bad at answering this one.  Too many of us, when asked about our achievements, say we’ve raised 3 children and kept them all out of prison.  And that’s great!  But it’s not going to result in people believing you can do your job effectively.  So when you ask this question, you may have to prompt and dig a little deeper to get the other person to tell you about how they won a fantastic contract or helped a client out of a sticky situation.

How do you relax?  This one’s wonderful for breaking down the barriers that naturally exist when two people meet for the first time.  It opens the door to a more social conversation and that’s when trust can begin its slow journey. 

Are you a member of any other networking groups or professional associations?  Want to learn about who this person knows?  This question is exceptional at enabling the listener to learn about the networks of others.

So there you are; a short, easy to memorise list that will enable someone else to tell their story.  And here’s the funny thing about a story – they too force you to listen.  But just in case you’re still feeling compelled to finish someone else’s sentence –

Keep the celery handy!