Many of the same principles that make you a great first date will make you a better business networker too.

By Jazmin Hupp (Director of Marketing, Tekserve)

You’ve heard that who you know is more important than what you know, but your education focused on facts instead of making connections.

Whether you use first date skills to connect to your next investor at the Women 2.0 Conference or to meet the love of your life, many of the same principles that make you a great first datewill make you a better business networker too.

Before you meet:

  • Prepare your soundbites – Almost every meeting will include questions like “what do you do?” and “where are you from?” Instead of the standard answers, prepare short stories that make you sound interesting, fun and unique. Don’t tell your latest acquaintance that you’re building the next social network and looking for a technical co-founder. That’s predictable and so common it’s forgettable. Tell him how you combined your love of website design with yoga to create a video blog that teaches parents how to introduce yoga to their kids and it’s gotten far more popular than you could have imagined. If this isn’t natural to you, check out books on how to talk about yourself with just the right amount of self promotion such as BRAG! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It by Peggy Klaus.
  • Investigate to find common ground – It’s easier to bond with someone when you have something in common. If you’ve lived in the same states, vacationed to the same places, or went to the same school, you’ll want to bring that up early to build rapport. With all the free information available on the internet, there’s no excuse to not know that they love shiba inu puppies too. I use tools like 123People to find where my potential connections lurk online. You’ll make an amazing first impression if you can start the conversation with “Hey I really loved your blog post on Facebook’s inflated evaluation last week, how did you…”
  • Dress up, instead of down – People form judgements about you in the first 15 seconds of meeting you and clothes are part of that equation. I would lean towards looking a little too good instead of the opposite. If you can wear something distinctive, without looking silly, it might help you be more memorable. Gary Sharma, of GarysGuide, wears a red tie to all events, which he even mentions on his business cards and email signature so he’s easier to find and remember.

Starting the conversation:

  • Practice walking up to people you don’t know – You should be able to walk up to anyone at a networking event and introduce yourself. Look for people alone or in pairs at the edges of an event for an easy start and work your way up. People come to networking events to talk to new people but get stuck just saying hello to people they already know. Break out of the rut and you might just meet your next co-founder. If this is a tough skill for you, practice by introducing yourself in low-pressure situations like the person sitting next to you on the train tonight.
  • Add value to join any conversation – The person you want to meet is at the center of a conversation and it seems impossible to break into the group. You can use the same method savvy guys employ to break into a group of girlfriends at the bar. Don’t just shove your way into the group and interrupt, stay close and listen for an opportunity to add value to the conversation. When your target brings up how much they loved the gelato at dinner, offer that there’s a new gelateria in town that they should try.

During the conversation:

  • Smile a lot – Look like you’re having a good time anytime someone can see your face. This is especially useful at events where you’d like to make an impression on the speaker. Sit in the front row and look really attentive by smiling, nodding, and taking notes on key points. Most people sit in an audience with a blank stare or spend the whole time checking their laptop. If you’re the friendly and receptive face in the crowd, you’ll be a welcome contact to meet after the event too.
  • Focus on how you can help them – Many people approach networking opportunities selfishly trying to find people to help them. Flip your priorities around and focus on how you can help people you meet. Helping someone make a connection or find a resource will give you an excellent reason to trade contact information. Every time I’ve focused on helping the other person, they’ve returned the favor when I’ve needed something.
  • Don’t cross your arms in front of your body – I recommend everyone take a basic body language course to learn the visual cues that show you’re receptive to the conversation. The very first lesson is to stop crossing your arms across your chest. Although it’s a comfortable way to hold your hands, it makes you seem closed off. I take courses at the Nonverbal Group in New York City.
  • Buy the next round – It may seem simple but offering to buy the next round is a skill men mastered ages ago to keep the conversation going. I learned how few women employ this technique when booking event spaces with bar minimums for Women 2.0’s Founder Friday events. Events with primarily women sell the least drinks because women aren’t culturally tuned to buy rounds. Events with men trying to impress women sell the most drinks for…obvious reasons.
  • Banish distractions – You never know where your next important connection will come from so even if you don’t think the person you’re talking to is “important”, don’t check your phone. Don’t look around the room. Don’t sit there and think about your day or what you need to do next. Be fully present for your conversation partner. It’s the best present you can give them.
  • Be positive. Nothing says “steer clear” like somebody who spends half the conversation complaining about their company/ex/apartment/family or whatnot. Keep the first meeting topics upbeat.
  • Don’t let the conversation stall. Everyone needs a bank of general questions you can ask a new acquaintance to get them talking and find common ground. You already know the standards like “do you have any siblings” but now is the time to invent questions that make you more insightful. I like, if you had enough money that you didn’t have to work, what would you do?
  • Listen more than you talk – We are a culture starving to be listened to. We broadcast our most minor thoughts throughout the Internet, desperate to be read. Listening is much more powerful than talking. Also making people feel like their minor thoughts on the Internet are being listened to can help too so like, retweet, and up vote away.
  • Compliment them – Try to offer at least one honest compliment to your conversation partner. This technique is over used so if you can’t say something genuine, skip it.

After the conversation:

  • Follow up! Follow up! No really, follow up! We all think important people are too busy to respond, so most people never reach out in the first place. I’ve given out business cards to 50+ people at an event in which every single one promised they’d follow up with me and gotten 2 emails afterwards. If you get someone’s contact information, send them a follow-up within 24 hours every SINGLE time. I use CardMunch to import business cards into my address book automatically and send LinkedIn invites. If you see a speaker that you’d like to connect with, the least you can do is tweet a useful tip from their speech with their username, tweet them a compliment, and follow them on Twitter.
  • Personalize every follow up –I use the Gmail plug-in Rapportive to display everyone’s social media updates along side every email I write to them. This allows me to personalize each email with something like “hey I saw you were in Chicago last weekend, did you find any good restaurants while you were there?” instead of the general “hope all is well with you” opening.

Women 2.0 readers: What dating advice can we also apply to business networking? Share your thoughts below.

About the guest blogger: Jazmin Hupp is the Director of Marketing at Tekserve, the independent Apple computer store in New York City that specializes in Apple solutions for business. Jazmin went on 72 first dates in 6 months to research her online dating advice book blog. She is speaking at a digital dating workshop in NYC on the Saturday before Valentine’s Day. Her passions include travel, tea and ZUMBA. Jazmin holds a Bachelors of Science in Management Information Systems. Follow her on Twitter at @jazminhupp.