Thursday, November 30, 2006

Horsing Around

I often speak about how important it is to speak to people about their passion if you want to catch their attention and be interesting to them. The power of this approach was driven home for me yesterday in a very amusing way.

For a nice change, I was a participant in a training day, rather than running one myself. This session was a 'VLO' session run by our Regional Partner for the Midland Region, Stewart Evans. The day was focused on sales skills, with one eye on how to encourage guests to join Business Referral Exchange groups.

Towards the end of the day, we were split into groups for a series of role play exercises, designed to make us recognise some of the situations where visitors to networking groups may feel less than comfortable. I was asked to play the role of visitor and approach one of the groups. What I didn't know was that the group had been asked to ignore me and repel me, physically if necessary (I trust that people aren't normally this violent at networking events)!

I approached the group and was immediately met by a sea of backs and elbows (please don't try to work out how that can be physically possible and take my word for it!). Undeterred, I tried to start a conversation but was met with blank faces.

I knew that one of the members of the group, who was closest to me, had a keen interest in horses, as she had talked about it earlier in the day. I turned to her and said,

"By the way, I meant to chat to you about your horses."

Immediately her guard dropped, her face softened and her eyes came alive. For a split second, she forgot the exercise and her role in it and was ready to engage in conversation with me. She then remembered what she was supposed to be doing, and started laughing.

When you meet someone new, you will both inevitably have your guard up to some degree until you get to know each other. By engaging with someone's hobby, interest and passion you will see that guard drop very quickly and you can start the serious business of relationship building.

It's not all just horsing around!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Double Dutch??

I have just returned from a week away in the Netherlands.

During an entertaining week, I was taken along to a Dutch Football League match as a guest of a local company. Not speaking much Dutch (well, I am up to four words now!), it was a great opportunity to observe body language as people networked in the business lounge after the match.

I have to be honest here, I enjoy 'people watching' anyway. I find it fascinating to watch people and determine their personality and what they do by the way they behave. When you are with a group of people who speak a language with which you are not familiar, this becomes the natural 'safety zone'.

There were certainly some interesting characters at the event. The first person we spoke to after the match had finished turned away from his friends to approach our group and started to speak to two of my Dutch companions. From the few words I understood, I picked up that he had asked them if they worked for the bank who were sponsors of the business lounge. They weren't, but he now had them in conversation.

As they talked away, our new friend dominated most of the conversation, speaking with great enthusiasm and humour. One of my friends turned around to explain to me what he did, he was an artist. It was only at this point that he realised that I was english, and he turned to me to tell me about a client of his in Australia!

Within a short time, the artist's portfolio magically appeared and was passed around as everyone showed great interest while looking for an 'escape route'.

We managed to move away, to greet a group of people at the other end of the bar. One of the group is potentially a very important client for my host. We joined this group and started speaking about the match. After a while, my friend was speaking with another member of the group. I could understand from their body language and a few of the words spoken that they were talking about business, rather than football, so I kept out of the conversation.

My friend told me later that the conversation could lead to business with this guy. They had met a few times before but my friend had never discussed business with him before. He knew from others what my friend's business was, and raised the topic with him when he needed his help.

My friend also told me that the original prospect had told him that he liked him because he didn't try to talk business at every opportunity, but was just a normal guy sharing football stories rather than chasing business. I am confident that my host will soon have a new key client rather than prospect.

So much can be learnt by observing other people; and the same approach to networking is important irrespective of borders:

Don't take over another group's conversation for your own agenda
Avoid trying to sell when it is not appropriate to do so
Keep clear of interrupting two people who may be discussing a business opportunity
Get to know people as individuals and find the interests you have in common to help you to connect.
Be patient.

And don't worry, I didn't stay quiet in the corner all evening. I don't think that anyone who knows me would believe that!!!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Are You Connection Conscious?

I am sure that many people will agree with me when I say that connections are at the heart of most success. Knowing the right people, being able to put a call in for help and support and putting people together are all at the heart of making the most of both business and social networking.

But do you really know what a connection is and how to recognise one? Are you 'connection conscious'?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Connection is a noun meaning:

1 a link or relationship.
2 the action of connecting.
3 (connections) influential people with whom one has contact or to whom one is related.

The key to benefiting from the third definition, is that you get the first two right! Knowing how to establish that link and connect to another individual is a special skill and many people miss that opportunity.

You can connect with people on more than one level. On a rational level, it is easy to forge a relationship with people with whom you share an interest, or even better, a passion. Whether you share a love of the same sport, are wine connoisseurs, film buffs or travel to similar countries, if you can find something in common with another person, you will find it much easier to connect.

Alternatively people will connect on a more emotional level. This is something that is much harder to define and is often known as 'chemistry'. Most frequently associated with romantic connections, where you feel that special bond with your partner, we also tend to associate more readily with people with whom we feel comfortable and 'at home'.

When you meet people at business networking events or in meetings, it can often pay dividends to leave business discussions to one side initially and find out about each other. Relax in each others' company and talk about the individuals. It will make it much more likely that you will be able to connect on a deeper level and take the relationship to a higher level, where you are both more likely to support each others' business.

And when you introduce your connections to each other, let them know why you are doing so and on what level you feel they would be able to 'connect'. What do they have in common?

Next time you attend an event, allow yourself to be 'connection conscious' and focus on building more relationships.