The idiot’s guide to networking and making a good first impression

Updated to Business on June 28, 2023.

The idiot’s guide to networking and making a good first impression

I think ‘networking’ is sometimes synonymous with tooth extraction. You dread it happening, it’s painful during the event – you’re glad when it ends.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

No argument—meeting new people should be a fun, valuable, enlightening experience. Maybe it’s for work, your favourite charity, or a community event—networking exposes you to new people, ideas, and opportunities.

The trick is to make it enjoyable (so you will want to do it more) and fruitful.

Here is my seven-step idiot’s guide to networking and making a good first impression.

1. Arrive with intention

Here’s the deal: if you think the event will be a drag, guess what? It will be.

Before I step on stage I take just a few moments to envision how my speech will end. How will I feel? How will they feel? What will they be excited about? You get the picture. It’s no different when going to your local Chamber event, or your wife/husband’s annual work party. Take a minute to paint a picture of how you want to feel at the end of the event and then get busy creating proof that you’re right.

2. Go for the bird in the bush

Last night my wife and I were at a neighbourhood party at a friend’s house. After a few shorter conversations, I got into a deep chinwag with George, one of my neighbours.

George shared the most incredible story of how he, at the crisp age of 54, got back into boxing (after a 38 year absence) and went on to win the world master’s featherweight boxing championship (he even has the belt)! I could have kept moving and tried to meet as many as possible, but sometimes you should go for the bird in the bush instead of trying to hunt them all.

3. Full frontal

According to the British Psychological Society, people who make eye contact are perceived as more intelligent. On the other hand, according to Dr. Robert Hare, you can go too far “if you lock on and don’t let go,” warns Hare, “people will likely assume you’re psychopathic.”

A second tip is to always turn and face the other person. I’ve noticed that men have a weird habit of angling up to people, like they are saddling up to a bar. Facing the other person shows confidence and commitment to the conversation. Much better.

4. Tell your face this is interesting

When you go into your head (thinking about what they are saying, rehearsing your response, having a sexual fantasy – really?) your face goes blank. It’s totally natural and totally the wrong impression to leave them with.

The solution is simple: periodically remind your face this is interesting. Raise your eyebrows, smile, nod, show some teeth, whatever, but let them know you find them interesting and they’ll be more likely to find you interesting.

5. Point the spotlight on them

Fact: people like (for the most part) to talk about themselves. So let them.

Here’s the trap I would fall into. I would yammer on about my Antarctic tour company, my current work, my family, whatever. They would invariably listen politely. And then, either I would run out things to say, they would walk away, or both.

The simplest way to engage people in a conversation is to ask clever open-ended questions.

“If you want to establish trust, let the other person speak first or have the floor first.” Amy Cuddy, social psychologist

Here are some to try on:

[after they tell you about their work] “Where do you see yourself in, say, three years?”

[after they tell you about their family] “Do you feel ready for your children to grow up and leave home?”

[after they tell you about a change in their life] “Looking back, would you have done anything differently?”

6. Double Click

Asking questions directs where the conversation goes. Double Clicking takes it to the next level. I talk more about Double Clicking in this post.

The idea is simple: after they answer your first question, ask another question. It sounds like this:

“That’s interesting. What brought you to that conclusion?”

“Thanks for explaining that. And I’m wondering what your motivation was to make it happen?”

The trick with Double Clicking is to only dig deep on one of their responses. To focus in on them, you are learning more, and you get to direct where the conversation goes. It’s a win/win/win.


 7. Be a human not a hero

Characters in stories always have flaws. It makes them human. When you are meeting people show some vulnerabilities, even weaknesses—it’s both endearing and engaging.

If your work is perfect, your wife/husband walks on water, and you have poster children there ain’t much to talk about. It’s also not honest.

“It is all too easy to put on a façade, to wear a mask and behave as you think the group requires, but then you are not real, you’re not yourself.” Anne Day, founder Company of Women

Some of my best conversations have happened when both of us admitted to some failing (if you can’t think of one, call me, I’m willing to share).

Tell me in the comments below which one you know you need to work on.