Networking is a skill. Like any skill, it takes practice to master. Sure, you are a salesman and have an outgoing personality so why wouldn’t you be a great networker? You aren’t just working within the timeframe of the event but also the elements and the environment of the venue. Most networking events are only a couple hours long and many of them include breakfast, lunch, dinner and/or drinks. So how do you network while people are eating? When they are in line and waiting for a drink? When there is a group of people talking, how do you include yourself? Again, networking is a skill and understanding the key parts to networking will help you find success at every event you attend.
1. Win the Introduction
· Don’t wait for people to come and introduce themselves to you. With this strategy, you will leave with a lot less business cards than you expected and potentially not have a single conversation. Be aggressive and introduce yourself to as many people as possible. Remember, everyone else is there to network as well, so they won’t be surprised when you put your hand out to introduce yourself.
· Introduce yourself to the organizer of the event. They can help point you in the right direction and introduce you to other attendees that you are hoping to meet.
· Entering the conversation. Starting a conversation at a networking event is easy… just go say hello. You can also use their nametag, which often includes the company they work for. If there is another conversation going on or a group of people talking, it is not rude to ask to join…. “You mind if I join you”.
· Exiting the conversation. This is sometimes more important than starting a conversation since you want to meet as many people as possible during the event. Once you realized you will not gain anything further from the conversation or it has gone too long, it is important to politely end the conversation. For most, you will be following up with them anyways to further the discussion. “It was great meeting you today. I am going to shoot you an email tomorrow so we can connect more”.
2. Win the Conversation
· Be Yourself. The goal is to build relationships and you can’t do that unless you are authentic.
· Set reasonable expectations. When attending an event, understand what you are there for. Is your goal to learn more about a topic/company? Is it to meet five new people? Is it to get 15 business cards? Set goals that can be met within the event timeframe. Don’t make “selling” the objective. That is for the follow up!
· Ask meaningful questions. The only way to get to know someone else is to ask them genuine and thoughtful questions. Learn about where they are from, their family, their hobbies and their role in the company and current business objectives and challenges.
· As much as you are there with your own business motives, so are they. Be willing to share about yourself and your business and offer to help them any way you can. Remember, you are looking to get to the right person in their company or gain referrals…. so are they. Make introductions, give suggestions, and offer referrals when you can.
3. Win the Follow Up
· ALWAYS ask for their business card. Even if the good conversations seem to be shorter than you would like. Make sure to get their business card to have their contact information. More importantly ALWAYS give them your card and ALWAYS make sure to bring enough cards with you. Giving your business card out to everyone increases the chance of getting a call you don’t expect from someone you didn’t connect well with. Who knows, they may be in a conversation where someone mentions your company and they will remember your card and say “I know someone…”
· Take notes at the event when the moment is right. After you get their business card, pull out a notepad and jot down a few notes about the conversation that will help when you follow up. You can even use the back of their business card so you can quickly associate a note with them.
· Email your new contacts the following day. Something short and sweet to let them know you appreciated meeting them and the conversation you had. If you see potential in growing the business relationship, ask to meet for coffee or lunch in the follow up. If they are not the right person or a fit, remind them your business objectives with your company and see if they can help with an introduction or referrals.
· Consider their network. When meeting people, its important to remember that even if they can’t help you directly, someone in their network probably can.
Networking events will only be as successful as YOU want it to be. It is up to YOU to introduce yourself, form meaningful conversations and follow up appropriately.