Networking Like a Pro, written by Dr Ivan Misner and David Alexander, recommends asking five key questions if we want to make a lasting impression when meeting people for the first time at networking events. The same questions can also be used, or adapted, for 121 meetings between BNI members.
Here are the five questions together with Dr Misner’s comments during a BNI podcast.
What do you like best about what you do? This really leads to a more interesting conversation about the other person’s business, their likes and dislikes, experience, and so on. It’s a much better alternative than simply asking, “So, what do you do?” Or it’s a good follow-up question after you ask, “What do you do?” Then they really open up oftentimes and talk more about their business.
What got you started? And this gives the other person a chance to talk about their personal goals and desires. It gives them a chance to really open up about what led them into what they’re doing. It also gives insight into how dedicated they are to the profession and how proficient they may be in that profession based on how excited they are about, in effect, their story, what got them started. You’ll find that people that are in a business, particularly for any length of time, are really excited usually to talk about what got them into that business.
Where else do you usually network? (Is this one of the kinds of organizations you usually visit? Are there other groups that you go to?) And this really helps break the ice during maybe an awkward period just after the introductions and offers a chance to talk about something in common to both parties. They might tell you about some casual contact network somewhere that might be of interest to you that you haven’t heard about or that you haven’t gone to visit. Or you may hear about some other groups that they’re in that may be of interest to you.
What are some of your biggest challenges in what you do? You really want to ask this question towards the end of your conversation. Otherwise they’re going to say, “Who are you, and why are you asking me that?” However, once you have developed a rapport this question can help you learn about the other person’s challenges and possibly help you to give them a referral. I don’t mean sell them your product or service, but a connection or referral to somebody that might be able to help them with that challenge.
It’s a technique I use all the time with people that I want to build a relationship with, because it allows me to follow-up in an easy way. “Gee, I read an article that addresses that very challenge that you’re talking about. Would you like to see a copy of it?” And then they’ll hand me their business card, and they’ll say, “Yeah, would you mind sending that to me.” You know you’re networking right when somebody gives you their business card and says, “Would you contact me?”
How can I help you? If you decide that the person you’re talking with is someone you’d like to have in your network, this is a great question to ask, and being helpful is probably the best way to start building a solid relationship with them. Don’t underestimate the power of “How can I help you,” especially if it’s somebody that you want to network with and they’re at a higher level of business that you are.