We all like to be good at stuff, but no one achieves pro status without practice.
Networking is no different, but how in the world do you practice networking? How do you practice something so in-the-moment without it feeling like a forced setup? Isn’t the only way to get better to just dive into a networking event and start talking?
Weeellll, yes and no. Sure, you can just dive into that massive crowd and figure it out as you go (and many people do), but that’s not the only way. In fact, the best relationship builders don’t practice at large staged events at all. The real rock stars have a crazy secret that sets them a mile above everyone else.
They practice everywhere.
No, I mean literally everywhere. Like, in places most people just keep their heads down and shuffle along, these peeps are bright-eyed and ready to engage. By constantly reaching out and starting conversations from scratch, they build their confidence while sharpening their skills.
Want to master their secrets? Then you’re in the right place. You’re going to learn how to harness six common situations to transform you into a confident, irresistible connecting master.
Before You Go
Before you attempt any of these awesome practice zones, check yo self by making sure your body language is inviting. No one’s gonna want to chat with you if you look like a scowly, hunched over maniac on her period. Proper body language is critical to connecting, so make sure you’ve got it right.
We cool? Sweet, let’s do this.
The Practice Zones
#1. The Grocery Store
We all end up here at some point during the week. Even the coolest people run out of toilet paper, so don’t act like you’re too good for this one.
This seemingly boring chore is a goldmine in disguise. Everywhere you turn, there’s a different kind of person, a different situation, and a different opportunity to connect. Most people are pretty bored when grocery shopping, so anyone who’s friendly and makes them feel good about themselves is a treat.
Translation: you won’t be annoying, so just do it already.
How I Do It
Let’s say I’m in the produce section grabbing some onions. Next to me is a lady doing the same, and I notice she’s wearing a cool bag.
Me: I love your bag, it’s so cool! Where did you get it?
Her: Oh, thank you! I actually got it while on vacation in Mexico!
Me: No way, that’s so awesome! I’ve traveled a lot, but never been there. Did you like it?
See what I did? I picked something she had and paid her a compliment. Compliments (as you’ll see in later practice zones) are a great way to relax someone and make them feel happy and special. Perfect conversation starter. It can be anything – a hat, coat, bag, or shoes. Heck, even their hair. Pick something you think is cool and let them know!
#2. The Elevator
Most people avoid eye contact in elevators like the plague. You may feel like it’s the ride of death, but real networking masters know it’s a killer chance to connect, so get ahead of the game and don’t waste it!
No matter who’s in there first, when the second person enters, make immediate eye contact. This is crucial. The longer you wait, the more awkward it gets (and we’re trying to avoid that).
How I Do It
I hop into the elevator and already inside is an older gentleman with a hat.
Me: I like your hat, sir.
Him: Thank you, I’ve had it a long time.
Me: It looks very classy. Seeing a hat worn well always makes me smile.
Him: Thank you. I love wearing them too!
Me (getting off on my floor): Well, you wear them well! Have a wonderful day!
Pro Tip: When it comes to practicing conversation, I’ve found that the older generation is almost always delighted to chat. Use that to make you brave!
Want more help making the elevator work for you? Well, aren’t you lucky – I wrote a whole guest post about it.
#3. The Store Checkout Line
Your food is on the conveyor belt, and you’re awkwardly herded into a line. Think this has no convo potential? Think again.
How I Do It
The lady in front of me is buying a chocolate bar, and I notice it as I’m loading in my groceries behind hers on the belt.
Me: Ooo, that chocolate looks amazing. I’ve never tried it, is it good?
Her: Actually, I’ve never tried it either, but I figured I’d give it a shot!
Me: Well, trying new chocolate is one of the best uses of time if you ask me! I haven’t met chocolate I wouldn’t taste!
Her: Amen to that, girl!
See? We can always count on chocolate, even in networking practice.
#4. The Waiting Room
This place rocks, y’all. People are bored AND captive. Win-win, amirite? Jk, but not really. You can have fun with this one.
How I Do It
As I sit down, I notice a woman with cute rain boots.
Me: I love your rain boots, they’re so cute!
Her: Thanks! I just got them actually.
Me: Ooo, where did you get them? I’ve been looking for the perfect pair for years!
Her: I actually got them off of Amazon, crazy right?
Me: I’ve never ordered shoes from Amazon, I’m too nervous! How was the process?
I’m telling you, it’s not rocket science. Be observant and don’t be afraid to harness what you notice. It can be a great conversation starter.
Pro Tip: If you find yourself totally lost in the maze inside your head, it’s ok. Overanalyzing happens, but you don’t have to stay there. Stay in the moment by actually listening to what others are saying before you decide what to say back. This keeps your responses natural and more relaxed (and you’ll feel less anxious too).
#5. The Sinks in Women’s Restroom (no, it’s not weird)
Ok, this may seem like an off limits kinda zone, but bathroom sinks are totally fair game. I’ve had some of the most fun, spontaneous chats as I’m exiting the ladies’ room, so don’t be afraid to wash and talk!
Pro Tip: It’s ok to offer a random comment or compliment, but don’t be over eager. Most people will get creeped out if you just launch into a whole spiel, so cool your jets and keep it short and casual.
How I Do It
I’m standing next to a woman, and we’re both adjusting our hair before heading back out.
Me: How does hair manage to misbehave in between bathroom breaks? *short laugh*
Her: Tell me about it, doesn’t seem to matter how careful you are, the flyaways come!
Me (as we walk out): Well, thank goodness for mirrors. *short laugh* Have a great day!
Her: You too!
It doesn’t have to be a long, drawn out, multiple line conversation. Just once back and forth will do! Relax, go with the flow, and be ok with a super short interaction. It’s still valuable.
Important Note: Please don’t do this stall-to-stall. #toomuch
#6. The Coffee Drive Thru
When it comes to chatting, this is low-hanging fruit, ladies. Drive thru employees are primed and ready to smile and chat, so make sure you take advantage of this easy win!
Worried you’ll say something stupid? Don’t be. Contrary to what you feel, you will not die, and, if you know how to harness it, those random comments can actually make you cooler.
How I Do It
Him (after taking my order): How’s your day going?
Me: Good! I’m on my way to get some errands done!
Him: Ooo, boring errands or fun errands?
Me: The fun kind, thank goodness! Shoes for me and a birthday present for a friend!
Him (handing me my drink): Well, sounds fun. Enjoy your day!
Me: Thanks, you too!
Wrapping It Up
You don’t always have to be in the mood to talk to someone, but if you make a habit out of reaching out more often than you stay quiet, you’ll see your connection skills quickly grow. Any place can be a valuable opportunity to boost your confidence and skill level, so be on the lookout and engage!
Excited to try this stuff out but still nervous about what to say? Don’t even stress, girl, I got you. My free 36-page guide, “The Female Entrepreneur’s Ultimate Guide to Small Talk” will give you the tools to talk to anyone, anywhere. Download it FREE (seriously, it’s on me).