Some of us dread going to an event where we feel forced to interact with others. It can be awkward, uncomfortable, and outright difficult to just to get the gall to try and start a conversation. We’ve probably all been there; scanning the room in hopes that someone comes up to us first.
The reality is that networking can be viewed as a necessary pain that one must tolerate, or as a great opportunity to expand their client base, develop business partnerships, find a better job, or simply make a name for themselves within the community.
Whether your intentions are for social or business purposes, networking can be intimidating for even the most extrovert individuals. Yet the logic follows that the more people you meet, the larger your network grows, which leads to a greater chance of finding the best customers, partners, employers, or employees.
A bit of preparation before your next networking event can set you apart from the rest of the pack. Here are some tips to make your next event a success.
Go with a goal in mind. When attending a networking event, always have a goal in mind. What exactly do you want to gain by attending this event? What is your end game? Maybe your objective is to get information on a specific company or perhaps it’s to meet and introduce yourself to five new people. Set yourself up with reasonable expectations and take a little bit of time to plan out a strategy to reach these goals.
Do your homework. If there are individuals or guest speakers you would like to introduce yourself to, do some research online and learn more about them, as well as their business. One of the most effective research and networking tools right now is LinkedIn. Check out their profile to find out some basic information about them and to also look for possible common connections.
Introduce yourself. We’ve established that networking events can be a bit awkward and conversations may not come as naturally as you’d like. However, you’ve got to start somewhere. Before going into the event take a deep breath, relax, and walk in with a smile. Try to make it a point to introduce yourself to at least five people. If you and all the other attendees are told to wear a nametag, use that to your advantage. A great way to find out more about the networking event, as well as who is involved, is to seek out the event organizer and introduce yourself. They’ll likely know quite a few people in attendance and can possibly introduce you to others organizations to get you off on the right foot.
Connect others. Don’t just focus on making our own connections; make an effort to connect others. If you’re speaking with someone, let’s say John, and know of another individual, Jane for instance, who might be interested in what John has to offer, be the mediator and get them together. By helping them both, they may pay it forward in the future, and connect you with an individual or business that could benefit from you.
Don’t be a spammer. Nobody wants to be friends with the person who is shoving their product or business card down people’s throats. Do not force your product on to people. Networking events should never be used as a way to directly sell or promote your products. Your goal should be to obtain potential leads. Also, if you are just handing out your business card to anyone who looks your way, you’re pretty much wasting that asset. If you haven’t built enough of a connection with someone that they personally ask for your contact information, don’t just give them your business card.
Be yourself. Never try to be something or someone you’re not. Be yourself or you’ll be building these new business relationships on a lie. When attending networking events, it is important that you stay genuine and true to yourself. Don’t try to be the person you think others want to do business with.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The only way to truly get to know someone is to truly be interested in who they are and ask them genuine questions. After the conversation is over, you can guarantee they’ll feel good knowing that you whole-heartedly listened and were interested in getting to know them a little better than surface level. Look for common interests to lay the foundation down for future business relationships.
Eye contact. During a conversation, make sure you remain engaged and attentively listening to the other individual. Nod your head and tilt your body towards them when speaking. Body language and eye contact are crucial in communication; it can either make the other feel like you care or make you seem distant. You always want to seem trustworthy and make others feel comfortable. This is one of the best techniques to use to build a positive rapport with others.
Join in. There is nothing wrong with easing yourself into a conversation and using this to lead into an introduction. This is a networking event. People may in fact enjoy the change in direction and the chance to meet someone new. If you sense that you’ve accidentally entered into a serious or personal discussion, it’s okay to politely excuse yourself. Keep in mind that spending time engaged in meaningful conversations with a few people can be better than floating around the room and spending time on superficial ones.
Prepare your elevator pitch. Be prepared for questions like, “What do you do?” or “What are your future goals?” You don’t want to be caught off guard so make sure you already have a few ideas lined up that you can use to accurately describe yourself or your business. Practice what you want to say beforehand, but when it comes to the day of the event don’t sound like you’ve been rehearsing for weeks. Do not be a robot.
Also, take into consideration why the person you’re speaking to should care about what you’re saying, and then craft your pitch accordingly. This is your time to really shine and leave an impression, so make sure you take advantage of this moment.
Follow up within 72 hours. If you have made a business connection and promised to send information, do so within 72 hours after the event.
Networking, like any other professional skill, requires constant training and development. Don’t beat yourself down if you haven’t mastered it yet. Networking isn’t just something that you can perfect over night. Also, don’t be intimidated by others who seem like natural born “networkers”. They aren’t and probably just had a lot of practice. The more events you attend the better you’ll get at it.