Starting conversations in a networked environment can be nerve wracking and sometimes uncomfortable. This is especially true if you’re an introvert by nature and actively approaching and chatting with strangers drains your energy.
Nevertheless, as a startup founder, it’s rarely a good idea to work behind closed doors. Connecting with different people is crucial to achieving success for several reasons.
It is clear that you must actively reach out to find partners, investors, advisors, employees, etc. Equally important, however, reaching out is your main tool for gathering feedback on your project from people with different perspectives. Doing this will help you avoid making a lot of mistakes.
Consequently, the best thing you can do is put yourself out there and try to connect with people. Here are three tips to make this process easier and more effective.
1. Prepare some conversation starters that are appropriate for the context
If you’re shy, it might be much easier to approach people if you know what you want to say beforehand. Consider the context of the networking opportunity and prepare a few lines.
For example, if you are attending the event, it could be something as simple as asking
“What brings you to this event?”, or ask the person you’re starting the conversation with about the event (e.g. panel, presentation) you both saw.
2. Follow up by asking questions
After opening the conversation, the best way to keep it going is to take an interest in the person you’re talking to – try to find out more about their project, job, opinions, etc. Most people like to talk about themselves , so it’s a great idea to use this to your advantage.
Active listening and tactical empathy in a network context are very powerful tools.
However, it’s critical not to feign interest just to sneak your real agenda into the conversation.
“The currency of true networking is not greed but generosity.”-Keith Ferrazzi
The reason you talk to them is to find out if you can create value for them. Like all relationships, professional relationships require reciprocity. Therefore, it is appropriate to try to offer some value first, as you are the one who starts the conversation and shapes the relationship.
The worst thing you can do while networking is appear needy.
“You can have anything you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want” – ZigZiglar
3. Keep trying
“I’m convinced that about half of what separates successful entrepreneurs from unsuccessful entrepreneurs is sheer perseverance.” -Steve Jobs
While this Steve Jobs quote is mostly about persevering through hardships and failures, it is also important to show real consistency and endurance in doing what you need to do.
In the context of networking, this is true for two main reasons.
First, if you try to connect with a larger number of people, you just have a better chance of finding people who are a good fit for you.
Second, as with any skill, you get better at networking the more you practice. Actively communicating with people is a skill like any other – treat your attempts as necessary practice. This way, even if your attempts aren’t fruitful, you’ll become a better communicator for next time.
People skills are extremely important for startup founders. Actively reaching out to people and trying to have sincere, interesting, and productive conversations is a great way to develop some of these skills and become more fluid in the art of conversation and connection.