Networking: Effective Ways to Make Connections Through Conversations

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Conference with people mingling Networking—The “elevator pitch” has become a staple in North American business society. If you haven’t heard of it, the idea is that when someone asks you “what you do," you respond with a clever answer that will differentiate you from the 20 other people the contact will ask the same question of that night.

The 30 or 60-Second elevator pitch stemmed from the question, “If you ran into your ideal investor in an elevator and you ONLY had the ride to say something that was impressive enough that the investor would accept a meeting, what would you say?”

When was the last time you were in an elevator and this sort of immediate situation happened?

There is no doubt that a business owner has to be able to articulate his or her value in a short amount of time. But there is a time and a place for an elevator pitch – and it is NOT during mingling functions.

Yes, you need to be able to say a quick blurb when you stand up in a group to give your commercial.

Yes, if you are sitting across from a prospect and they ask why they should do business with you then you need a succinct and compelling answer.

Yes, if you’re at a speed networking event and you have to blurt out something intriguing in minute that will differentiate you – sure, go for the pitch.

BUT when you are at a mingling function the goal is connection – not sales.

If you don’t believe me that it’s the wrong approach – watch it happen and see for yourself how it doesn’t work. As soon as an entrepreneur jumps into the elevator pitch the eyes of the asker of the infamous question “What do you do?” glaze over. The B.S. red flags are hoisted and the chance of creating a genuine connection is diminished.

The reason people start conversations with the question ‘what do you do’ is because they don’t really know how else to start a conversation! This is a generic question that will glean enough information to start the exploration of connection and/or potential fit for business.

When people ask the question, it’s not the same as:

  • What is your value proposition
  • Why are you better than your competition
  • Who is your ideal client
  • What scenario would make me a candidate for your service…
  • Nor any other question that the “elevator pitch” aims to answer.

Another reason the elevator pitch doesn’t work, is because people don’t go to events to be “sold”. The very nature of a “pitch” is a one-sided communication that tries to sell your product or service.

5-10-15 Second Communication

Instead, try the 5-10-15 Second Communication.

This is a formula I developed and outline in my book Business Cards to Business Relationships: How to Build the Ultimate Network. After attending hundreds of events and meeting thousands of people, it became clear to me that despite the best of intentions, the elevator pitch ensured a quick plunge to the end of a conversation – exactly the opposite response you’re looking for when networking!

The philosophy behind the 5-10-15 Second Communication is that it turns the question “What do you do” into a conversation instead a one-way purge of information.

  • Your 5 Second spot is your core deliverable.
  • Your 10 Second spot is what they NEED to know.
  • Your 15 Second spot is what they WANT to know.

If the person does not respond with so much as an “oh really” after you’ve shared your five second or less answer clearly stating your core deliverable then they aren’t really interested in what you do. That’s fine, change the topic.

On the other hand if they respond and offer a hint of interest, then you have started a conversation and you can move into the next step which is what they NEED to know to better understand what you do.

These are two key points that you think are important for people to know about you. A good choice is the field you work in and the value you deliver; crafted in a conversational way.

From there you look for a response. This is where you can really turn the original question, "What do you Do?” into a conversation, not a one-sided purge. The contact will likely respond with some sort of a question or comment to take the conversation in a direction that is relevant to them.

Voila, you have an opportunity to show your expertise by answering their question OR you have enough information to categorize the contact as a potential client or as someone who is not interested in what you do. This works so absolutely effortlessly. Let me give you my example. This, by the way, has led to countless new clients, every networkers’ dream result at functions.

Depending on who is asking the question (my answer would vary depending on which of my two target audiences, small business owners or a professional service providers, the person was most aligned. )


Question: What do you do?

Answer: I do training / speaking on business networking. (See, it’s my core deliverable in less than 5 seconds)

Comment: Oh/ really/ oh right, I think I’ve heard you speak… (whatever they say it lets them be part of the conversation)

Answer: Yes, I work with small business owners to help them grow their networks so they can be more successful…(under 10 seconds, enough information that it triggers their mind enough an internal dialogue so they can self-identify if they are in fact interested in my services or if they are not).

Asker could respond countless ways from there and by listening to their answer, I could go with the flow to take the conversation in the right direction.


Wow, I’ve always wanted to get into the speaking industry. Then I would create a conversation around the speaking industry.


I’ve really struggled with my networking. Then I would take the conversation in that direction understanding that they are a prime candidate for my coaching programs.


They may say nothing at all and change the subject in which case they are not interested.

Whew, could imagine if they weren’t interested at all and I had launched into the 60-Second elevator pitch? There would have been no chance of connection.

The key to remember is that people will connect with YOU as a person first, and what you do second.

This is the final installment in a four-part series about how to network with confidence and success. The following are the first three posts in the series:

What do you struggle with most when it comes to striking up conversations with people? How do you overcome your fears of meeting new people? What questions do you usually ask? How do you carry on the conversation?

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Allison Graham worked as a receptionist during the day and a bartender at night. Thanks to learning how to network effectively in a short period of time she changed her life’s direction creating a huge network and a successful career in the media, politics, business and charitable sectors. Realizing the power of networking and being forever grateful to the people who showed her the way, Allison Graham has made it her personal mission to help others reach their true potential by teaching them practical networking strategies that actually work!

Allison Graham writes the column and blog for the London Free Press & syndicated throughout Sun Media called Getting Connected: The Art of Networking and has been featured in the Financial Post, Globe and Mail and on BNN’s MoneyTalk.

Allison authored the highly acclaimed book Business Cards to Business Relationships: How to Build the Ultimate Network (also available in Canada) that is packed with proven action steps for successful networking. For free networking tips or information on how to have Allison Graham speak at your next conference or corporate function, please visit You can also follow Allison on Twitter (@AllisonDGraham) and on Facebook (

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