This question comes up all the time. You’re going to a networking event and they come to you looking for conversation starters. What do I talk about? What do I say? No matter if you’re an introvert or extrovert, going to an event where you have to sell yourself can be a challenge. You’ve read in blogs and newsletters: “Brand yourself. Be a thought leader.” What is that supposed to mean?!?!
I’ve been to a number of these events which have ranged in the spectrum from social to corporate. As someone that needed to rebrand herself from a legal professional to a marketing guru, I’ve learned a thing or two. No matter whether you’re an entrepreneur building your first startup or top executive that is now taking on a venture capitalist role, there’s several ways to approach a conversation.
I recently asked someone in the digital design field his thoughts on the topic. Is it better to know a little about everything or a lot about one thing? We all know content is king — but should that content be general in scope or more centralized in one field?
“It’s important to have a general context about your industry. As a developer, you have to know a lot of things, even just to touch on them in a conversation. The distinguishing factor is here: you have to be able to small talk with everyone. IF someone starts to really get into the teeth of what you do, you have to be able to talk the talk, and walk the walk. You need to be able to get into specific examples. Knowing a little about everything will get your foot in the door with a crowd. Proving that you’re an expert will get you farther.”
So before you step foot at that next networking event, take the opportunity to run-down topics that can be used as conversation starters. Keep in mind these tips:
Know thyself. Before pitching your background, know what you’re an expert in. Are you certified in a specific area? Is there a project that you want to mention that highlights a particular skill? There are many occupations that require you to be a strong generalist, but that won’t make you stick out from the crowd. Know your niche. I always recommend developing your unique value proposition before networking with others. Consider the following:
What industry does the event attract? Let’s take digital marketing for example. Go through a Google newsfeed using “digital marketing” as your search term. Stay up to date on current events. This is the best way to get into relevant small talk. I recommend setting up Google alerts to arrive in your inbox every morning based on keywords and trends that you're looking to stay on top of.
Stay on top of RSS (what?!) feeds. RSS feeds are gold for those that want to stay on top of a specific topic online. Also known as a rich site summary, an RSS feed is a format that will update you of new content when posted. It’s a common tool located on many websites, especially online publications. Download an RSS reader — there’s tons of free ones to choose from. Visit the site that you want to follow and copy the URL link from its RSS button. Paste the link into your reader and you should be all set to receive your updates! If you haven’t set up a feed, I would highly recommend.
Are there any speakers that you should start networking with? I’m not saying go full-stalker mode, but do some background research on speakers at an event. Maybe they graduated from the same alma mater or are a member of the same organization as you. These speakers are experts in their field so if you’re within arms length, take the opportunity to spark conversation.
So the answer as to what you know and how much you know about it is not entirely clear cut. Remember to go into an event confident. Be able to spark conversation, ask open-ended questions, and keep in mind that we’re all human. At the end of the day, we’re all looking to grow our networks and form connections. How you do it is up to you.