You’ve been the wallflower, stuck at some B2B mixer and knowing that you shouldn’t just walk around handing out business cards. That’s not how it’s done anymore, but everyone is standing in pairs or small groups talking about how the local pro team’s season is shaping up. What you need, according to veteran sportscaster and business strategist Jen Mueller, is to spend five minutes a day learning about sports to boost your networking skills.
“Based on Harris Poll surveys, about half of all Americans identify themselves as sports fans, making sports a topic that is important to millions of Americans,” Mueller explains. “Being able to speak about current sports news and topics connects you to a larger community, provides common ground between individuals, and offers the opportunity to build relationships.”
Mueller says she noticed a friend—the CEO of Seattle Chocolates, Jean Thompson—who needed to learn more about football. With the Seattle Seahawks’ Super Bowl victory, it’s all anyone in the city is talking about. Thompson needed an easy way to connect with football fans, so Mueller, being the friend that she is, wrote a book on the subject.
Here are a few tips she shared with us from her book, Game Time: Learn to Talk Sports in 5 Minutes a Day for Business:
- Focus on the right sport for your market. Seattle-based folks don’t have much interest in the NBA, much like Spurs fans don’t have much to say about the MLB. Jump on the bandwagon of the pro or college team that has the most fans in your area, and you’ll be able to talk sports with more people than if you try to strike up a convo about ladies’ tennis at a convention in Dallas.
- Pick a favorite player who represents your own values. You might admire the player’s work ethic or devil-may-care approach to PR, but whatever your favorite point guard or linebacker stands for, rest assured you’ll be associated with him if he’s your means of introduction to a new potential business contact. Choose wisely.
Mueller explains, “I think the most important thing to remember is that every conversation you have either reinforces the way people think about you or causes them to reconsider how they view you. You can use sports as a personal branding too—even if you don’t know the ins and outs of the rulebook. Is your favorite player known for his toughness or his discipline? Chances are you’re drawn to that player because you value not only their athleticism, but also their approach to the game.”
- Don’t sweat the details. Talking sports is an ice-breaking technique, a means of introduction or following up that leads to the business at hand. “All you need is about 15 seconds of information to engage a sports fan,” Mueller says. “Those 15 seconds can be found by reading the headlines on the sports page – which takes very little time.”
- Always have an exit strategy. Mueller says she covers this sensitive topic in depth in her book, and for good reason. “A sports fan will jump on the opportunity to talk about his or her team, and getting a response to your initial outreach is a crucial first step in building a relationship,” she says, cautioning against those “awkward conversations that won’t end.”
“In the business world, whatever your business is, talking sports keeps you relevant and creates connections,” says Mueller. “You can use sports conversations to reinforce your values and your personal brand, showing—rather than telling—who you are. Using sports as a conversational tool will help you to make every conversation count.”
Jen Mueller is the author of Game Time: Learn to Talk Sports in 5 Minutes a Day for Business. With 10 years under her belt as a high school football official, Mueller now works as the sports reporter and producer for Root Sports Northwest in Seattle. She is seen on Seattle Mariners pre- and post-game shows, as well as on the sidelines of college football and basketball games involving the Washington Huskies, Washington State Cougars, and Oregon State Beavers. She is also a member of the Seattle Seahawks radio broadcasting team, serving as their sideline reporter, and trains business people to talk about sports through her company, Talk Sporty to Me.