Do you loathe networking? Would you rather visit the dentist than attend a cocktail party where you don’t know anyone? If you answered yes those questions, then read on!
This past Saturday, I spent several hours at Midas to replace the brakes on my 2010 Toyota Matrix. Another waiting customer struck up a conversation with me — chatting about South Boston and our reasons for coming to the Cape. He mentioned moving from Hartford ten years ago to help take care of his aging parents. The conversation could have ended there if I didn’t pick up on a key detail in his synopsis. Doug mentioned that he used to own a delivery company that worked with a large printer in Connecticut. My interest was piqued by a possible connection and I inquired about the name of the large printing company. He looked at me oddly and replied Allied. I laughed and explained that MOO works very closely with Allied and the conversation blossomed from there. We exchanged stories about John, his old friend and my sales person, and made a connection. What a small world!
I share this exchange not as a segue promoting this Midas location as an alternative pick-up joint, but to talk about active listening and networking. I’ve mentioned my introverted personality in earlier posts so my natural tendency is to stay guarded and keep to myself, particularly with strangers. Which is why I sometimes dread networking events.
But when I turn that dread on its head, the dread quickly dissipates and I find myself enjoying the event. How do I do that? By looking for shared experiences. This could be in knowing the same people, loving the same sports team, having the same hobby, etc. The goal is to find common ground so we leverage the similarities to form a connection. It’s like playing Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, but with our careers! Easier said than done, right? Well, if we all start playing with the intent to win, then we’d all benefit from more worthwhile connections.
Being an intermediary introducer helps make me a true contender in the networking game. When you introduce two people, do you simply announce their names and titles? It would be much more interesting and worthwhile for all involved if you added color to the exchange. Let me explain.
When a new starter joins my team, I make sure to personally walk him/her around the office so I can add context to all introductions, fast tracking the relationships past the initial awkward stage. I start off with explaining how each person will interact with the other and then quickly move on to more personal topics — neighborhoods lived in, particular interests (i.e. hiking, hot sauce), recent vacation spots (e.g. Disney World, Italy, Costa Rica), upcoming life events (i.e. adoption of a pet, engagements, weddings), etc. My introductions aren’t canned because I’ll vary the trivia according to the people, but the purpose is to plant a few seeds that can be tended to at a later point. It’s an ice breaker, but just between three people. I tend to use the same tactic in my personal cocktail parties too when I’m mixing friendship circles.
Some companies help facilitate this active connecting by giving employees name tags that display their name alongside their birth city and/or a fun fact. Mine would be Megan Cincotta from Boston, MA and I love pelicans. At MOO, biographies and profile pics are collected from starters that hiring managers then use as inspiration to introduce the new MOOster on the company’s intranet. I talked about my work in medical device marketing, yoga, running, and red wine in my submission. This is a great tradition that I hope doesn’t disappear with the company’s aggressive growth trajectory.
Whenever I lead group sessions where the group is largely comprised of strangers, ice breakers are my go-to default. Sometimes they’re met with a groan, but the short-lived annoyance is paid in dividends through less awkward silence. And the creative juices really start to flow if the ice breaker forces people out of their chairs. Purposeful ice breakers that I’ve used include:
Name Circles where the group of people sits or stand in a circle. Each person introduces him/herself by preceding their introduction with an adjective that begins with the same letter as their first name. For example, I’m Magnificent Megan. As the group moves around the circle, each person is responsible for introducing the people (and their adjectives) before them. This helps people remember each other’s names and gives insight into a person’s creative slant.
Famous People where as each person arrives to the room, I pat a sticky note on their back. Once everyone has entered, attendees circulate around the room introducing themselves followed by asking YES/NO questions that will provide clues to pinpoint the secret identity stuck to their back. As people correctly guess their secret identities, they sit down, usually leaving a few stragglers’ worth of comedic relief.
Two Truths and a Lie where upon sitting at their assigned seat, each person is instructed to write down (2) truths and (1) lie about him/herself. Before starting the session, I collect and read each of the cards aloud. All attendees then shout out which one out of the three is the lie. If there’s interest (and enough time), the person can elaborate on one of their truths.
Famous People and Two Truths even work well with a group of people who may already know each other. There’s always so much to learn about each other!
Fellow introverts — when it comes to introductions, are you an intermediary? How do you use ice breakers to take the heat off you?