Let’s face it, when I say the word ‘networking’, does it make you want to poke your eyes out with a sharp stick? If so, do you think you are going to make any meaningful connections, going in with this attitude?

A few weeks ago, I gave a workshop at the Critical Mass conference, held at The Royal Institute in London for social entrepreneurs, investors and government ministers. The purpose of the talk (including lots of role play!) was to teach people how use flirting to network in a more rewarding way.

Georgia Humpherys, in her excellent post for Pioneers Post, captured the essence of the talk beautifully. I have cut and pasted her article below, and here is the link, if you’d like to go to the site.

The workshop with the best title at Critical Mass showed delegates the best way to garner a stack of new business cards at conferences.

Jean Smith has travelled cities around the world researching how people flirt, and as a ‘flirtologist’, has used this to teach singles techniques to help them find a partner. At a workshop at the Critical Mass conference, held at The Royal Institute in London, Smith used her expertise and a generous amount of role play, to explain to social entrepreneurs, investors and government ministers how to sharpen their ‘flirting’ skills for networking confidently, ensuring interactions with other people in the sector are more rewarding.

‘Flirting’ in a business context means learning how to initiate conversation, how to enable a better quality conversation once you’re in the interaction, and how to build genuine rapport, or, to create “liking”, as Smith put it, with the other person.

The guide to flirting involves these four key tools, to be used internationally and across cultures:

1) Learn people’s names quickly

Be motivated to put more effort in to learn names, instead of focusing on other things, or thinking to yourself “I hope this person likes me”. Learning someone’s name is the key to quickly making a connection. Try and learn names in groups of three, or more if possible, but according to Smith research shows that seven names is probably the maximum you can remember in one go.

2) Higher the quality of conversation

“Life’s too short for a boring conversation”, said Smith. A key to combatting this is self-disclosure; if you really want to increase liking, then you have to be prepared to talk more about yourself. However, it is more important to be interested, rather than interesting. Smith suggests listening 60% of the time and talking 40%. Stay in the present instead of worrying about the future and what to say next. And be prepared to ask different, more challenging questions- dig around a little bit – to initiate and build better conversations, rather than just small talk.

3) Be confident breaking into groups of people already talking

Our minds make up scenarios: “negative mental chatter” as Smith puts it, that make us hesitant to break into a group. Tell yourself that, actually, people’s reactions will be good. Find an opening, literally and physically; if there’s not a space for you to walk into, don’t enter the group. Then, make your presence known, listen to conversation, making eye contact and smiling lots, and when you have something to say, add it.

4) Know how to make a graceful exit

Don’t think of the possible negative outcomes of leaving a conversation, such as the person you’re currently talking to thinking you’re rude, or that when you finish the conversation they will have no one else to talk to. Instead, remember that if you are ‘stuck’ in a conversation, you are not doing yourself a service. Say it was great meeting them but that there are other people you would also like to talk to and remember they will probably want to do this too. You will feel more assertiveness starting a conversation while networking if you know how you can comfortably exit the conversation.