Earlier this week I attended a National Association of Corporate Directors breakfast. I arrived just before the program started, missing the networking session, and had to sit in the last seat in the back of the room for the panel discussion.
At the Q&A portion of the panel discussion, I raised my hand and asked a question to the panel regarding an assertion they made about “Millennial Values” (a term I often challenge as a matter of course).
Right after the program adjourned, several attendees approached me to discuss my question further or provide their thoughts. A-HA! Another Awkward Networker tip was born!
Asking a question during a professional program is brilliant for a couple reasons.
People see you. Visibility is incredibly important at networking events, because even when you meet people for the first time later in the event, they feel as if they recognize you. More importantly, if someone approaches you after they’ve seen or heard you, they must already find you somewhat interesting.
You have plenty of time to craft what you’re going to say. If you’re like me, there’s often a 50/50 chance that the first thing that comes out of your mouth when you meet someone will be immediately regrettable…
“Hey! How’s.. um… how are things?”
…Things? Can you be more specific?
“Oh hi, how have you been?”
…I’m sorry, I didn’t realize we met before. Where did we leave off?
Asking a question at a large Q&A session allows you to spend the time to craft the perfect question that will communicate your education, personality, and interest. Rather than having several awkward, sudden first impressions, you can ensure a powerful, positive first impression for EVERYONE IN THE ROOM. Pretty impressive! That said… it’s everyone in the room. Oh no, now I’m freaking out. Everyone? What if instead of humiliating myself with one person, I humiliate myself with everyone in the room? Don’t freak out. Stay with me here. We can do this…
3 essentials to keep in mind.
KISS (Keep. It. Simple. Sexy.)
I always thought that Stupid part was too mean. You’re sexy, not stupid, but please don’t complicate things. Your question is only as powerful as it is concise. Maybe these tough-love points will help…
- No one needs to know your full background (e.g. where you came from or who you work for).
- The panelists know you appreciate them taking the time to be here today.
- We know you “have just a quick question” – that’s why you raised your hand.
- And if god-forbid your question is a “two-parter”, you don’t need to declare it.
There, I just shaved 20 seconds off your question!
Keep it concise and simple, but craft your question around something you actually care about. The entire room should feel your interest and desire for the truth. Also, if anyone wants to ask you about it further, they should feel the same passion one-on-one as they did in the crowd. If you craft a random, unguided question for the sole purpose of being seen, the crowd will notice the distinction and disengage.
Repeat the question multiple times in your head, focusing on the first sentence, then the next, and the next. Edit each sentence with conciseness in mind. Then, envision yourself asking the question. I mean really think through every step.
“Ok, I’m going to pull my chair out, stand, and button my jacket to give the event coordinator time to hand me the microphone (note: please don’t be that person that says “I don’t need a microphone” – most venues include white noise that dissipates vocal volume quickly and you don’t know how well your voice pitch travels). I’ll hold the microphone in my left hand, because I’m a gesticulating pro with my right hand, and I’ll begin by looking at the panel and end by looking at the moderator. Boom. Ready. Showtime.
Keep these tips in mind, and don’t be afraid to stand-up and be seen. You just may enjoy the benefits of having fellow networkers approach you for conversation, rather than the other way around!
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