How to Network at Unexpected Places

You never know when the universe will decide to throw you a bone by presenting you with the business opportunity of a lifetime–in the most unexpected place you can think of. We like to imagine important deals and negotiations taking place in an elegant office while we’re wearing our best suit. Sometimes, though, it may happen when we’re at the kid’s’ little league game.

Opportunities to grow your network are all around you if you’re open to them. As-a-matter-of-fact, some of the best business relationships are built outside the office. Maybe in a restaurant. Maybe on the golf course. It’s important to be able to recognize these opportunities as they come, as well as to actively seek them out.

Here’s what you need to know about networking at unexpected places.

Be Prepared to Describe What You Do

Say you’re out walking the dog and you come across a woman doing the same. You strike up a friendly conversation and the topic of careers comes up. It turns out she’s your ideal client. You don’t want to go into annoying , over-the-top salesman mode right then and there, but you also don’t want to let a lead slip away. Now’s the moment to make an impression, but you have to do it tactfully.

In order to make that happen, you have to be prepared beforehand. Practice describing your profession, your business, your experience. Write out all the key points and plan how you would communicate your message in 30 seconds or less. In a minutes. In two minutes. Go over these again and again until you’re able to say them naturally and smoothly.

Having the different presentations ready is important. In an ideal situation, people would give you several minutes to talk. But when you just met someone in a casual setting, the last thing you want is to come off as pushy. Talk too much about business and you can wind up hurting your chances. That’s why having your 30-second presentation is critical.

Of course, you want to establish a connection and create opportunity for further discussion later on. That leads us to our next point.

Always Have Your Business Cards on-Hand

Don’t ever leave home without them. By giving your contact something physical, they’re more likely to remember you later on. Maybe they’ll pass your card along to a referral. Maybe they’ll give you a call later on.

A good trick to seem less forceful and more genuine is to have a pen on-hand so that you can write your personal number or personal email on the card. Since that may not be feasible in all situations (like when you’re jogging), go ahead and write your number on a few of your cards so that you have them ready when you need them.

Listen More than you Speak

When you take the time to listen to people and how genuine interest in what they’re saying, you make them feel important. That’s how you get people to like you.

As interesting a person as you may be, people will find you more interesting if you help them feel interesting. Ask appropriate questions. Look them in the eyes. Look for shared interests and ideas and build off of these to establish a good relationship.

Get Out There and Find Lots of These Opportunities

Meeting new people and making friends is intrinsically rewarding. If you can make an advantageous business connection while you’re at it, even better!

But you’ll never have these experiences if you keep yourself shut-in at home. Be active in your community. Go for walks. Join an intramural sports team, a hobby group, a fan club, or a band. If you’re actively enjoying life, that enthusiasm will be contagious and you’ll naturally attract good people, some of whom may end up becoming your clients or business partners.

Follow these principles and you’ll not only be more successful professionally–you’ll have an all-around more enjoyable life.