The Pro Guide to Building Rapport

You’re at a conference and you know nobody. They are having mixers and meet-ups and maybe you’re standing in the corner with your drink and plate of appetizers wondering— how do I actually start meeting people? How do I connect without sounding like a fool? How do I make the most of this conference?

I get it. Building rapport, not coming across as a person who is fake or have the Axe Body Spray of “Desperate Desperation” smell is a legitimate fear. You want to connect with people, but how do you do it in a world where most of our communication happens behind a screen instead of face-to-face? Here’s how you build rapport quickly and not come across smarmy.

Ask Better Questions. We hear it all the time: the subject people love to talk about is themselves. When you’re attempting to build rapport, ask open-ended questions that get people to talk about themselves such as:

  • What made you decide to come to the conference?

  • What are you into when you aren’t doing something like this?

  • What’s the most challenging part of your business?

  • What’s a book you’re enjoying right now?

  • What are you hoping to get out of the conference?

  • What session should I attend?

They will open up and share, but without the next point, it just doesn’t matter.

Listen Well: Keep your phone in your pocket! Just keep it there. Don’t bust it out when you are around people. It immediately signals, “I’m not interested.” It might be a reflex when you start feeling anxious. If you struggle with that, use an app like Forest that will give you a little time to decide not to use your phone.

Ask for Permission: When someone is telling me about their business, my head will occasionally buzz with statements and questions like, “Oh, I know the perfect book they should read.” “They have to check out this blog/podcast!” “Wow, they are leaving money on the table! I need to help them!” But if I open my mouth and say, “This is what you should do. . . “ I instantly sound like a pretentious fool. Here’s what I do instead: I ask them for permission to give them my advice.

“Hey, would you mind if I recommended a book?” “Hey, can I ask a follow-up question about that business model?”

“Would you mind if I connected you with someone that could help with that particular problem?”

I’ve never had someone decline my offer because now they are open to the counsel I can give. That permission piece is crucial if you want to help someone out and make that connection.

Make an Offer: If you get to talking and you are going to a session that you wished someone else wanted to go to, offer to take notes and pass them along.

Make a Recommendation: If I’m heading to a new city, I create a little list of the best restaurants and bookstores in the area. I keep in the Notes section of my phone so when I’m talking to a person, I offer to share the list with them. At the bottom of the list is my contact information, so if they want to reconnect, it’s all right there.

Buy a Drink: I know. This might fall in the “basic” category, but I can’t overemphasize the importance of this move. Whether it’s grabbing someone a Coke from the cooler or getting them an adult beverage from the bar, it has helped me build rapport quickly and open up conversations.

Enlist a Wingman: A friend of mine struggles with going to conferences—so many people, so many names, etc. So as his wingman I simply meet people and if it’s going well, he’ll saddle up next to me and I’ll introduce him. If it’s not going great, I’ll peel off and try again. I help him pave the way to make connections and I wind up meeting a lot of people.

Building rapport is more of an art than a science, but don’t let fear get in the way of creating valuable and life-long connections.

Ryan McRae is the author of The ADHD NERD, a blog dedicated to helping the terminally distracted become profoundly successful. Since you made it to the bottom of the page, he's got a free book for you: Conquering the Calendar and Getting Stuff Done.

Thank you for sharing.

"I consider myself to be quite good at networking, and this course gave me quite a few new tools for my toolbox! I put Dave Delaney's approach to the test in selecting and attending a conference less than 2 weeks ago, and I landed a new client. Now that's an amazing ROI! Thanks Dave!" - Lesley Antoun.

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