Most of us haven’t really had much of a chance to do face to face networking in the past few years for obvious reasons. But now that we are finally meeting and having live events, we’re all having to remember how to interact and how to engage as human beings. To help those who are feeling a little rusty, here is an article I wrote a little while back with 20 of my best face to face networking tips that might help you to ease back into it.
NETWORKING IS NOT A DIRTY WORD
Okay, let’s be honest, for most of us, networking really has become a dirty word. we know we need to do it, but we are so sick and tired of standing around in a room full of strangers, eating cocktail sausages, making small talk, feeling awkward and dreading someone coming over to us and starting a conversation that we will never be able to escape from.
But, and this is another very big but, networking events are a fantastic way to get new business. rather than dreading them, we should be leaping in the air every time we get an invitation because it really means we will have access to a room full of potential clients for not very much money.
I do quite a lot of networking training for my clients and I find that once they have some clear instructions that will help them out, they never look back.
So what are some of the strategies that will remove these feelings of dread and have you running to networking events fully prepared to do business? Here are the top ideas that have helped me to build my business over many years:
■ do your homework
■ don’t judge a book by its cover
■ learn to ask open-ended questions
■ read today’s newspaper
■ don’t get there too early
■ you are not going to the gallows, so remember to smile
■ don’t just stick with people you know
■ drinking does not make you more networkable
■ Take plenty of business cards and promotional material
■ Keep a pen handy and write notes on the back of cards
■ wear something distinctive
■ Hang out near the food
■ look for groups of people rather than individuals
■ enlist the aid of others to introduce you
■ offer a compliment (and be sincere)
■ focus on the person in front of you
■ Go with a target in mind
■ Use the other person’s name in the conversation
■ when asked about your business, make sure you are enthusiastic in your response
■ follow up quickly to get results
1. Do your homework
I am a firm believer in doing my networking homework. I like to know who will be attending a networking event and I find that this helps me to get mentally prepared and ready to understand the types of conversations that could be had, the mood of the room, the reason for the meeting, and so on. Turning up blind tends to lead to wandering aimlessly and spending the whole session figuring out who is there and why. If you have been invited as a guest by someone, ask them to give you some background so you know what you are attending. It really will pay off in the long run.
2. Don’t judge a book by its cover
My biggest peeve at networking events is being dismissed by someone who acts bored the minute they meet you—and they don’t even have the decency to hide it. Instead they look everywhere but at you, like they are looking for someone more interesting (okay, in my case they may be, but it really is rude!). It is a cliché but never judge a book by its cover in the world of networking. Take the time to communicate with the people you meet, find out as much as you can about them and then, if you can’t see a way to do business (I actually ask this question—how can we do business together?), it is fine to excuse yourself and move on to your next prospect.
3. Learn to ask open-ended questions
This is a great skill for anyone who really can’t stand the awkwardness of small talk and meeting people for the first time. The golden rule here is to ask the other person questions about themselves or their business. so rather than asking simple questions that can be answered with a yes or no, go for the questions that need a real answer: ‘so, can you tell me about the services your business offers?’, ‘what is your competitive advantage?’, ‘How has your industry changed in the past ten years?’, ‘where do you think your industry is heading in the next ten years?’ and so on. This gets people actually communicating.
4. Read today’s newspaper – or the online equivalent.
For many people, the hardest part of networking is running out of things to say. so I make a point of reading that day’s newspaper and taking note of five or six stories that are general enough to be conversation-starters in any situation. There are always a few current ‘hot topics’ which will get people talking, especially if you get good at asking open-ended questions: ‘so what do you think about . . . ?’
5. Don’t get there too early
I always try to avoid arriving early at a networking event. There is nothing worse than standing in a room with one other person, feeling a sense of awkwardness and praying desperately for more people to arrive. of course, I guess you could see this as an opportunity and a captive audience, but it rarely feels that way at the time.
6. You are not going to the gallows, so remember to smile
It is amazing how many people network with a grimace on their face as opposed to a warm, friendly smile. If you look like you are in pain it is unlikely that people will get trampled in the stampede to come and meet you. Make eye contact and show a few teeth (ideally in a smile, not a snarl) and you will be amazed how many people welcome you into their conversations simply because you look friendly.
7. Don’t just stick with people you know
Many of us look around a room full of strange people trying to find a friendly and familiar face so that we have someone to clutch onto. once we have found that friendly face it becomes way too easy to spend the entire networking event chatting to someone who already knows you and what you do, instead of seeking new business contacts. The key here is to be brave enough to walk up to strangers and be prepared to stick your hand out and introduce yourself. The more you do it, the easier it gets.
Remember, networking is marketing and marketing is all about building your business. By all means say hello and connect with friends and current clients, but use networking as a tool to get new customers.
8. Drinking does not make you more networkable
Sorry to break this bad news to those folk who think that a few stiff drinks will help them to relax and make it easier to mingle. It might, but what message does it send? seeing someone guzzling beer does not make them more appealing as a person to do business with. I suggest that you avoid alcohol at these events. The concept that you need to drink to be social went the way of that ‘driving yourself home from the pub because you were too drunk to walk’ dinosaur. The idea of a networking event is to portray the fact that you are a professional, someone that other people will want to work with, not drink with.
9. Take plenty of business cards and promotional material
It is amazing how often people turn up at networking events with- out business cards. I have a mental checklist: business cards, two pens, some brochures and a couple of my books, depending on the event. The key here is to be prepared before you head to a network- ing event. How many promises to catch up and follow up never happen because you can’t find their card, then you can’t remember the business name, so you simply put it in the too-hard basket?
10. Keep a pen handy and write notes on the back of cards
I always write memory joggers on the back of business cards—these might be something the person said, something they were wearing, a distinctive characteristic or some follow-up that is required. These notes have jogged my memory when I have stumbled across a business card from people I met years earlier. one word of advice though: don’t write these notes down when the person is standing in front of you as this can be seen as rude, especially in certain cultures like that of Japan. find a quiet space to do your note writing, but don’t put it off too long.
11. Wear something distinctive
This is an oldie but a goodie. some people make a point of wearing something distinctive so they stand out and can be remembered at net- working functions. It might sound corny, but in a room with 300 people it can be hard to stand out. And as much as we might really want to blend in, standing out will get us noticed and that leads to new contacts, being memorable and new business.
12. Hang out near the food
When people are eating they are far more likely to strike up a conversation. They are relaxed, often feel a bit guilty because they are eating something they think they shouldn’t, and there is of course a common topic for discussion—the food. so if you hang out near the buffet you may find it easier to meet people and have some good conversations.
13. Look for groups of people rather than individuals
It is always wise to find a group of people where you can kind of muscle your way in, stand and observe quietly and then slowly become a part of the conversation. when we are in a group we behave a bit like penguins— we will shuffle to let other penguins in and then huddle back together. My advice here though is to be quiet when you first enter a group, wait a while and someone will talk to you. If you enter a group and start taking over the conversation, the group will often disband and you will be left on your own.
14. Enlist the aid of others to introduce you
If I am going to a networking event where I know one or two people who are very well connected, I will often ring and ask them if they would mind introducing me to others at the event. In fact, I have done this many times and it works really well. The person then has a mission and a job, that is, to drag me around and introduce me to as many quality contacts as possible—so it is an express form of networking. Best of all, if we get stuck in a scenario where we don’t want to be, the colleague can easily excuse us with the statement, ‘sorry we can’t chat, I am trying to introduce Andrew to as many people as possible tonight.’ Perfect.
15. Offer a compliment (and be sincere)
If you struggle with an opening line when meeting new people, the oldest tried and tested method is to offer a compliment. you may choose to go up to someone and compliment them about something they are wearing, or perhaps comment on something they have done (if you know a bit about them). The biggest key to making this work is to make sure your compliment is sincere. If it’s not, people will often dismiss you, and deservedly so.
16. Focus on the person in front of you
At networking events, it is important to give 100 per cent of your attention to whoever is in front of you, even if they may not be a potential contact or business lead. rather than acting bored (and looking rude), excuse yourself and move on.
17. Go with a target in mind
Heading to a networking event with a specific ‘target’ in mind will often give you a sense of purpose and an outcome from the event. do your homework, know who you want to meet and why you want to meet them and then go for it. setting goals always gets results.
18. Use the other person’s name in the conversation
As dale Carnegie stated, ‘The sweetest sound to any person is their own name.’ when you are introduced to a person, respond using their name and use it repeatedly in the conversation. If you are one of those people who forgets a name as soon as someone says it, you may find that this technique will help.
19. When asked about your business, make sure you are enthusiastic in your response
When you meet a person at a networking event, the one question they are bound to ask is: ‘so, what do you do?’ now, how you answer this is vitally important—remembering that the words don’t mean as much as your body language and the emotion in your voice (non-verbal communication accounts for up to 90 per cent of the meaning we take from any encounter). so it is important to have a positive, energetic and memorable response to the question ‘what do you do?’ easier said than done, but be playful, try new ideas, have a laugh at yourself and people will remember you.
20. Follow up quickly to get results
Many people are great at networking but lousy at following up. so why bother to network in the first place? Great networkers will follow up the next day. If you say you will do something, do it. This will impress people and show that you are not only professional but also keen.
I gave a client of mine a copy of these points and he has printed them onto little business card–sized cheat sheets so he can subtly check them if he finds himself in a hole. He never used to attend network- ing events because he felt so awkward; now he looks forward to them.
There may be a lot here to take on board before your next networking event, but if you slowly try to introduce a few of these points at each event you attend, I promise it won’t take you long to become a networking machine who gets a lot of business from every event you attend.