Feeling uneasy about walking into a roomful of strangers at a networking event? You’re not alone. But networking at business events can help you grow your business, as well as allow you to grow your network. Learning to mingle and to follow-up with business networking contacts is crucial to your success. The following techniques will help you connect effectively with others.
Before the Event
Come prepared to network by bringing business cards (Tip: Bring about 30-40 card depending on how many are attending the event), a pen to write notes on business cards and if possible bring your own lanyard with your name and or business card attached to it. Make sure you eat before you go because sometimes there’s not enough food or you’re too busy to eat. If it’s a cocktail party, and finger foods are being served during the networking portion of the meeting, it’s better to carry only a drink, instead of trying to juggle a plate of food. (Tip: For those who don’t drink alcohol, buy something that looks like a cocktail, such as a soda water with lemon)
Know your goals: What is your purpose for attending this particular event? Meet certain people? Find prospective customers? Nurture existing relationships? Bring business cards and promise yourself you won’t leave until you’ve given out all the cards. Ask for other people’s cards if you sincerely want to keep in touch with them. Not everyone you meet will be a good resource but its always good to get to know everyone anyway.
Ask the event host about dress code and or look up the information on the event page but most of the time it would be business formal. Some events are business formal and people will be wearing business suits. Some events are business casual and there will be a mix of more relaxed styles. By knowing in advance what to expect, you maximize the feeling of being part of the group. (Tip: You don’t always have to wear a suit and tie; slacks, a dress shirt and tie is enough to attend formal events)
At the Event
First, arrive early. Get there early when the group is small and manageable. Enter the room with a smile. Even if you feel nervous, “act as if.” If you have a smile on your face, you will be perceived as approachable, enthusiastic, and friendly. (And you’ll feel a whole lot better, too!) Make sure you mingle. Do not isolate yourself with only your friends or colleagues you know. Move around. Spend no more than 6-10 minutes talking with any one person.
(Tip: The 50/50 rule: if you meet someone you know say hi to them, do some chatting and then move on to another person you don’t know. Then meet someone you know and then move on to another person you don’t know and repeat. This is a good way to greet your current contacts but also get to know new people)
Ask your host to introduce you to people that you want to meet, or to get you started in a group where you know no one. If there is a greeting committee or ambassadors, find out who they are and ask for help with introductions. Reach out to people standing by themselves, introduce people to each other.
(Tip: If you’re part of a group or association that does not have a greeting committee, offer to be a one-person greeting committee. It gives you the perfect excuse to introduce yourself to everyone who walks in the door!)
(Tip: Crash a group of women or men and say something funny like: There’s a rule where no more than two women can gather in a group at a networking event without having a male in the group or vise-versa if you’re a female do the same. It will loosen them up and also give you a chance to introduce yourself to the group)
When you meet a person, shake hands, and repeat their name. This not only helps you remember it, but it shows that you’re making an effort to hear the name properly. Wear a nametag that is easy to read and is descriptive of you. (Tip: Make sure your name and company is written clearly) Wear it on your right shoulder so that people can easily see it when they shake your hand. Create, practice and use a description of yourself and your work that can be said in 30 seconds or less. Know how to describe your work in one or two sentences. (This is commonly known as an elevator speech because it reflects what you can say in the time it takes to get from the ground floor to the top floor in an elevator.)
(Tip: Another good way to meet everyone before you start networking is to volunteer to help sign and check in guests at the event. This will help you decide who you want to talk to at the event)
Listen more than you talk. Remember that there is nothing more flattering than someone who listens carefully and shows sincere interest in other people. Ask questions and listen to the responses so that you begin to understand the person. This also helps you to identify who might be a potential client for your own products and services. Take notes to help you remember what people have said. (Tip: Write a quick fact about the person on their business card so when you email or call them you can mention something personal about them) When you get back to the office, put all this information into your contact management software.
After The Event
Once you have someone’s business card, make sure you follow up with them within 24 hours of the event. If there’s an obvious win-win connection with someone you’ve met at an event, call them up and invite them to lunch or coffee to explore the connection further. When you write the networking event into your calendar, also add one or two hours the following day into your calendar for follow-up so that you know you have time to complete the task.
When you look upon networking events and business functions as an opportunity to meet new people, do some market research, and find potential clients, it can become a joy instead of a chore. Going in with a game plan makes you feel like you can really make the most of the event. Also remember that networking is building relationships with the people you meet at networking events, sometimes you have to see them more than once at an networking event to be able to do business with them.
(Tip: Take your time in getting to know everyone on a personal level by asking about them personally instead of talking about business the whole time. By doing this you’ll build a solid relationship and trust with your potential contact)
We hope this will help you on your next networking event. Actual Networking welcomes any tips or ideas on future networking blogs and please check out our past and future posts on Networking Tips and Networking Event Reviews.
Social Networking For Actual Networkers™
ActualNetworking.com, or AN, is a non-profit benefiting the community by bringing the business networkers and local charities and non-profits together