Networking can seem insincere, pretentious, or even manipulative. And if that’s what you’re thinking, you’re probably right… about some of it. There will always be people who judge others based on image and titles, but there are also people who want to build genuine, mutually beneficial relationships. When you’re networking, you’re going to have to sift through the people you don’t want to know to get to the people you do want to know. That’s just an essential part of networking, but the good news is that with practice, you’ll get better at spotting the people worth knowing.
You see in today’s business world everything is about relationships. People do business with people they like and trust. So let’s be clear about what you are trying to accomplish, and that will help determine your actions for the evening:
1. Be memorable, in a good way. Have you ever attended an event, gotten someone’s card, and when you look at it later you can’t remember anything about them? You don’t want to be one of those people to others.
2. Collect information. Giving out your business cards isn’t nearly as important as collecting others’ and making notes, either written or mentally, that will allow you to follow up effectively.
3. Create value for others. This is the essence of networking. Look for opportunities to be of service, and you’ll benefit in the long run, as well.
Introducing yourself to an individual and introducing yourself to the group are two totally different things. If you have the opportunity to introduce yourself to the whole group, or even a large dinner table, then you’ll want to use your “pitch”: a concise and memorable introduction that describes both what you do and how it benefits others. But one-on-one, that can get in the way of natural conversation; you want to describe what you do in a memorable way, but don’t go off into the benefits – you’ll sound like a bad salesman.
Small talk is highly under-rated. In a networking setting, it is how you build rapport and discover common ground. While you may want people to remember your business, being remembered as a “brilliant conversationalist” certainly isn’t a bad thing. Some networking gurus recommend asking questions that get the other person doing all the talking. It’s true that people do love to talk about themselves, but good conversation is a two-way street. But if all you do is ask questions, what do you bring to the table? You want to create value and contribute from your experience, as well. Be fully engaged and fully aware of the people you interact with. You can break this down into smaller, somewhat mechanical pieces — listen well, respond promptly, maintain eye contact, etc. — but if you are truly present in the moment, those things will happen naturally.
Collect Cards, Make Notes
The cards you give out aren’t nearly as important as the ones you take in. Sure, give out cards if people ask for them, or if you want to reinforce your conversation, but more importantly, get cards from the people you want to follow up with.
Have a pen handy and make some brief notes on the back of their card. This will help you remember them. Secondly, it’s an opportunity to make a commitment and keep it. Often in conversations we agree to do something like make an introduction or send some information, but then fail to — not because we’re blowing the other person off, but because we simply forget. Your stack of cards with notes becomes your to-do list the next day.
Your exit is as important as your entrance. Don’t just disappear. Thank the host and the speaker. Touch base with the people you spoke to earlier in the event and briefly reaffirm any commitments you’ve made.
Effective networking is all about the people you know and meeting new people through other people. Your network is only as strong as the way you manage it.