Networking for the sake of ’networking’ is a waste of your time unless you are clear about what it is you want to achieve about mixing and mingling with a crowd of peers. It’s a little like saying ‘content is king’ – well, it’s not if it’s rubbish – ‘engaging, relevant content’ is better. Likewise, ‘engaging, relevant networking’ is much more fun and is a better use of your time.
There are some who simply have the gift of the gab and flit around a room of people like everyone is their best friend. For others, not so much – networking is not everyone’s favourite way to spend time!
Like most disciplines It’s about having the skills – to connect with people on a personal level. If you’re a natural that’s magic, if you’re not, don’t worry but either way there are some networking fundamentals for readers to consider when you’re preparing for your next networking occasion.
Look for the networking opportunities that suit you
If you’re going to use a couple hours of your valuable time each week to catch up with a ‘random’ group of people, you need to understand who your buyer or influencer groups are.
Once you know the types of people who you want to meet you can begin searching for events where these people might be spending time together. You might do this in a couple of ways.
- Find industry organisations who organise events. These organisations and networks frequently organise networking events for members to meet one another.
- Find events through event databases. These sites will show you a wide range of events that you can attend.
Next – register.
Plan ahead before attending
Think ahead! When you turn up to the event, what you really want to know is:
- who is going to be there; and
- who is going to be most valuable for you to talk to?
Contact the event organiser and ask for the guest list, in advance. Identify some guests that you want to introduce yourself to learn a little about them/their organisation.
Set a specific, tangible goal for your networking
- I want to educate people about my industry
- I want to speak to six people and find out what they do
- I want to find three people who might turn into sales leads
Plan for attending the event
Know where the event is, know how to get there, know where the nearest parking is, arrive with a little time to spare. These simple, every-day actions will keep you calm and in a good frame of mind for social interaction.
Staring a conversation
This is perhaps the most awkward part of networking, and what most people struggle with – breaking the ice.
Here are some tips:
- Be in a position where people will invite you into their conversations – the food station or where coffee is being served is where many people congregate
- Find other people who are alone or potentially ‘first-timers’
- Have an opening question so you’re prepped to be the one to break the ice i.e., “what made you come along today?”
- Find the people who you want to talk to
- Ask the person running the event or those manning the name badge/reception desk to point out or introduce you to someone you’ve identified
Having the conversation
There are numerous reasons for attending events. In the main its to meet and connect with people, and qualify whether they are a good prospect to have a follow-up conversation with them. That follow up conversation is where you can talk about a potential business relationship.
- What brings you along to this evening?
- What do you do for work? (if not already established)
- What‘s really getting you excited about work at the moment?
- Oh, that’s really interesting. I run a business that ………
This alone may help you feel less stressed about networking given that you’re not expected to convert a stranger to a business opportunity immediately, you are simply screening people as to see whether you share common interests and values.
Exiting the Conversation
Be genuine about your reason for exiting. Rather than saying something cliché and/or potentially false, like “I need to go to the bathroom” you can script something more genuine, such as:
- “Thanks for the conversation. I’ve just seen someone else I’d like to speak with.” or
- “I realise there are a lot of people here who would like to meet you, so I won’t take up too much of your time, but can I grab your business card?”
After attending the event, hopefully there a few people who you’ve identified or agreed to continue the conversation with. This is the easy bit – send them a quick email saying how nice it was to meet them, that you hope they enjoyed the rest of the function. Add value and depending on what you spoke about send them an article, a piece of thought leadership or a link to something they’ll find of interest and value – it shows you were genuinely connected, that you were listening, understood what you discussed and that you’re a valuable connection.
This is how you can use networking events to set appointments with people who require your business services.
- Be nice to the people who organise the events and say thank you to them before the event as well as after. The people who organise the events can introduce you to the people you want to meet. Make sure they feel appreciated at the start of the event, so they can help you during it.
- Only pick up food that can go into your mouth in one bite. Once you start biting into food items, you can easily spill food on the ground or on yourself.
- Keep food in your left hand. If the food is greasy then you don’t want to hold it in your right, because then you need to wipe your hand before you shake another person’s. So, you want to keep your drink in your right hand and switch it to your left hand to shake
- Smile — always
- Keep your eyes at eye level rather than looking down at the ground. This projects confidence and shows people that you are interested in them.
- Hand over two business cards. One for the person you met and one for them to pass to someone else who may want to speak with you and/or need your services.
There are a lot of tips and tricks. I wouldn’t expect you to try do all of them at once. But challenge yourself — try out at least one of these at your next networking event and see what the difference is.