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  • Awkward Networker

Bring the Fireworks

“How do I make a lasting impression with someone I just met?”

I received this question from an audience member last week.  My good friend, Allie, and I had the pleasure of hosting a networking workshop at Temple University, and a young woman asked this same question.

Instantly, my mind flooded with responses, each reflecting the advice I’d received in the past from mentors or other speakers on the topic.  Deploy a few quick, fun, relevant anecdotes to keep the focus on yourself.  Execute a firm handshake and look everyone in their eyes. Mind your posture – shoulders back and chin up!  People remember pride and confidence.

But my response was unlike any advice I’d heard to date, and the group’s nods inspired me to share that advice here.

I think too often we focus on being entertaining and engaging at networking events, rather than purposeful and helpful.  I used to think that making a lasting impression meant I needed to bring the fireworks, captivating small audiences with animated stories that burst with laughter and fade into a thoughtful ending.  It’s true, everyone wants to see those fireworks, and everyone aspires to be the architect of their own colorful light shows at the next social event.

But why?

Don’t get me wrong, entertainment is a perfect way to attract attention, but if all you’ve done that night is entertain, why would someone contact you later for any other reason than to be entertained?  In the professional world, calendars are packed and priorities are constantly competing.  Therefore, it can be difficult to convince someone to meet you again after a networking event if their only impression of you was your storytelling or sense of humor.

It wasn’t until recently I realized the difference between “first impression” and “lasting impression”, and it became the difference between “hey, thanks for the laughs” and “hey, let’s get together next week”.

The big secret is simple.  Ask questions to discover how you can help the person or how the person can help you.  If you can help the person, explain how you could help them. (I’ll pause here while your mind digests that world-altering advice).  Then before you part ways, ask for the person’s card and notify him/her that you’ll follow-up to discuss further.  If they can help you in some way, be upfront about that as well.  “Maybe I can also ask you a few questions about how you did x,y,z, because that’s really impressive.”  That’s all you need to make a lasting impression.  If you want to add your lively stories and animation to attract or retain their attention, that’s great.  But the key to a lasting impression is finding that soft spot.

For instance, if you’re reading this, you now know that I am trying to get my blog off the ground and successful.  That’s a pretty obvious soft spot for anyone that wants to make a lasting impression with me.  Are you familiar with web design?  Did your friend start a blog a year ago and now has over 100,000 followers?  I’ll bite anything you dangle on that hook, because I’ve made it clear to you that I can use help.  We all have that soft spot.

If you want to make a “lasting impression” with someone at a networking event, ask enough questions to reveal that soft spot, connect how you can be helpful, and boom!  You can now watch everyone else’s fireworks all night knowing that when the last ember fades to dark, you and your new best friend will walk away to grab ice cream and talk about life.

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