This five step process will help you to break the ice with confidence to create strong connections and engagement.

When you start a business, one of the first things that you need to master is talking to people about what you do.

But if you’re like most people, you get nervous, flustered, and you get things wrong.

You freeze up, or you end up stumbling over your words.

Or maybe you aren’t quite sure what to say so you stand there silently, watching, wishing you could say something smart, witty or relevant.

The truth is, if you’re a new to business and networking it can feel a little bit uncomfortable, or it can feel downright uncomfortable. 

So today I want to walk you through a step-by-step process that you can use to help you to break the ice in all sorts of social and networking situations.

The goal of using this process is to feel more comfortable and confident when talking to people, making new connections and starting to generate business – and eventually become a household name!

And if you’re a coach, this is going to be easier than you think!

Let’s start at the beginning.

STEP 1 – Preparing for the Conversation

Your primary goal with this step is to feel prepared and confident before the event.

If you are going to an event to meet prospective clients or business partners, it can help you if you are feeling prepared. Feeling somewhat prepared means that you have a sense of confidence about showing up in the first place. You will more likely feel like you know what you are doing there. You will feel more comfortable knowing your place, who’s who, and what sorts of conversations you might be having.

So to prepare for the conversations you will have, there are four things you can do:

  1. Research the event or audience, 
  2. Review industry news, studies or current affairs
  3. Prepare some simple soundbites about what you do, and
  4. Establish some goals for the event.

Research the Event or Audience

It’s super easy to go online for 30 minutes and find out the history of the event, or the keynote speaker, or the organising group.

Discover what they stand for, what their mission is, and why the event is taking place.

If possible, look at the attendees list and decide who you might like to talk to. Research their background – their companies, interests and work ethic.

This is one way to feel prepared and to generate ideas for conversation.

Read the News

If you stay abreast of current affairs and latest research papers in your industry or related to your target market’s interests, you will find plenty of conversation starters. 

There are many ways you can turn the latest news or research into a conversation starter.

Here are some ideas:

  1. Apple is releasing a new iPhone in September – conversation about tech use, stress, blue light, monitoring apps.
  2. Bupa has a series of ads about self-care for mothers – conversation about the challenges of motherhood – did they get it right?

There are many ways you can turn the latest news or research into a conversation starter.

Prepare Some Soundbites

Invariably, someone will ask you why you are at the event, and possible what you do. Having some responses planned will help you navigate that part of the conversation smoothly.

If you have done your research you will have an answer to the ‘why are you here’ question.

Maybe it’s about professional development and networking.

Maybe you want to stay on top of industry trends.

Maybe you want to learn from industry experts, or about who else is out there servicing your niche.

These are all responses that could start a conversation about you. And when it comes to what you do, you need to have practiced a natural, authentic elevator pitch (a short one) that sounds aspirational but humble, and a bit like a vision.

If that engages interest, you’d have a longer elevator pitch prepared as well, to explain your mission and the benefits of what you do.

Establish Some Goals

I had a conversation with a student coach once, who was preparing for her first business networking event – a business networking lunch.

We discussed her setting some specific goals for the event so that she felt she had a specific purpose and focus.

I can’t remember her goals exactly but they were something like this:

  1. Without knowing exactly who would be there, she set a target number of people to talk to in the room – I think it was 5.
  2. She wanted to find common ground and aligned values with three local businesses who service her niche
  3. She wanted to learn from two experts about a specific topic.

As you can see these are simple goals that focus on connection and nothing else, and they evoke curiosity rather than fear.

She entered the event feeling confident and clear on how she would spend her time.

You could set goals like this or something different – it’s totally up to you.

Write down some ideas of questions you could ask, topics of interest, or the feelings you would like to have while you are there.

One thing’s for sure – when you set some goals and make a plan for the event you will feel a sense of relief, get a boost in confidence, and feel motivated about attending.

Invariably, someone will ask you why you are at the event, and possible what you do. Having some responses planned will help you navigate that part of the conversation smoothly.

STEP 2 – Set up the Conversation

Your primary goal with this step is to show up authentically.

No matter how good you are at networking, it can be difficult to start a conversation.

The goal of the conversation should always be get to know another person and to build rapport. 

If you are meeting someone for the first time, you want the other person to engage with you, to like you, and create a connection that you both value.

But we often approach these conversations the wrong way. 

Consider this for a moment.

You have just seen someone you would like to meet and you are considering your approach. You might think to yourself:

Are they going to like me?

Will they be able to connect me with clients?

Will they notice how nervous I am?

Will they be able to give me work? 

Will I be able to get my message across without seeming salesy? 

Which question should I ask next? 

What should I ask them about their business – or not?

Right now, take a step back and notice something that all of those things have in common.

The theme was this – all those thoughts and questions were all about you. And that’s the opposite way you need to be thinking.

The way to engage people and build trust and rapport is to make the conversation all about them. In other words, put your coaching skills into action!

When you shift the focus to the other person, with the idea that you have something to learn from them, then it takes away the focus on you and your nerves and needs.

Focusing on the other person raises curiosity, gratitude, warmth and empathy.

So when you are in the room and preparing to have a conversation, notice that your default  position might be fear and uncertainty, and you will need to refocus.

Think about the preparation you’ve done and focus on why you are here.

Remember that you will feel less anxious and more relaxed as you go.

If you feel awkward at any time, your fallback position is to ask a question, so the other person will speak and you get some time to think and process. 

STEP 3 – Breaking the Ice

Your primary goal with this step is to break the ice – to connect and engage confidently, authentically and with curiosity.

So, what do you say? How do you break the ice?

Think about the research you did and the goals you set. You should have a few topic ideas to get started.

For example, let’s say you are at a general business networking meeting and want to meet other businesses who also service your clients.

You could ask an icebreaker question such as:

  • What’s been the best experience you’ve had being in this group?
  • I’m curious – what inspired you to start your business in that particular area?
  • What do your clients love most about working with you?

Notice that these are all vision-style, big picture questions that invite a positive and expansive discussion.

Now let’s say that you went to a health and fitness expo and wanted to meet potential clients as you strolled around the booths and displays.

You could approach someone at a booth or who is waiting for a speaking event to start, and ask an icebreaker question such as:

  • I notice you’re checking out the fitness tights. What sport do you play?
  • I always feel so inspired at these events. What brought you here today?
  • This speaker is so amazing. What do you like best about her?

All you need to do is find someone to talk to, ask a thought-provoking question and listen carefully while the other person speaks.

Then, reflect what you hear to show you are listening.

Ask related, follow-on questions that go where the other person is taking the conversation.

If you start this way, you will break the ice, which is your primary goal. 

Now, consider how you might be able to SEE that the ice has been broken.

Certainly, body language and tone of voice will tell you if there is an authentic connection.

The person you are talking to will have relaxed body language. Their shoulders will relax. Their arms and legs will be open. Their pupils may be dilated. They may start to gesticulate. There will be a physical change in the other person.

Also, the cadence of their voice might slow down, or it may speed up if they get fired up about the topic. 

In any case, know that when you see and hear these signs, you have broken the ice and are ready to dig deeper into the conversation.

On the other hand, if you do NOT see these signs, don’t worry.

Not everyone has chemistry. You can end the conversation politely and move on, thanking them for their time and swapping cards with them.

STEP 4 – Building the Conversation 

Your primary goal with this step is to build the other person’s confidence and trust in you.

If there is a clear connection with someone, then you’ll want to build the conversation and take it deeper. 

You can ask more probing questions related to the initial conversation, or bigger picture questions. In other words, keep using your coaching skills! 

Ask for the other person’s opinions and insights.

If you have done your research and preparation, then you’ll have some background ideas and insights on the event or person that will help you come up with some insightful questions that will further the conversation.

At some point, the other person may ask you about yourself, so having a brief spiel about yourself or your business – an authentic elevator pitch – is a good idea.

At the end of the conversation you can decide where to take it.

Swapping business cards is a good start.

If you think there’s synergy worth pursuing, you can invite them to a coffee date or follow up chat.

Be specific and ask about their availability for a 30 minute chat in the next week.

Your self-confidence here will build the other person’s confidence and trust in you.

After the event, you may like to write notes on each business card you collected about the person and key points of interest.

STEP 5 – Following up

Your primary goal with this step is to demonstrate your accountability and professionalism.

If you have collected business cards from people it’s useful to follow up with them in a way that adds value.

You could, for example, send them a news article or link that they might find interesting or helpful, based on the conversation you had with them.

Or perhaps you ask if they are going to the next event, and would they like to meet beforehand for a drink.

If you discussed a coffee date or phone meeting, you can contact them the day before the arranged time to confirm it.

In either case, when you follow up proactively and with self-confidence, the other person will be impressed with your accountability and it will build their confidence in you.

This is an important outcome goal in any networking connection.

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The goal of the conversation should always be get to know another person and to build rapport. 

So to recap the five steps:

  1. Prepare for the specific event, what you will say, and goals, so you feel confident and ready
  2. Set yourself up to show up authentically, and ready with coaching-style conversation
  3. Break the ice and connect with confidence and curiosity
  4. Build the conversation with probing and broad questions – and build the other person’s trust and confidence
  5. Follow up promptly by adding value or to confirm – to show accountability and professionalism

Ready to master icebreaker conversations?

Try these five steps and watch your networking skills improve! If you’re truly ready to break old habits and get out of the rut I encourage you to check out the Habitology membership.

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