I’ve met a lot of business people who equate attending a networking event with going to the dentist for a root canal in terms of the amount of discomfort it causes. In most cases, the perceived pain is related to the fact that the person feels out of his or her element. While networking may never become your favorite pastime, the following suggestions should help reduce your stress level and enable you to get the most out of your networking activities. Who knows, you may even enjoy yourself!!!
Remember why everyone is there – The first thing to keep in mind is that everyone attending a networking event is there to make new contacts. By introducing yourself and starting a discussion, you are doing exactly what you are supposed to be doing. Unlike a cold call where you are interrupting the recipient while they are actively engaged in some other activity, everyone at a networking event is there explicitly to meet other people. So, don’t worry that you might be bothering someone when you introduce yourself.
Know what you want out of the event – There are a lot of reasons people participate in networking events. At the same event, people may be there to find potential customers, a new job, new employees, a subject matter expert, referral partners, new vendors, or a date for their cousin’s wedding. You are investing your time – and sometimes your money – so you should have at least one objective in mind. If you are there to find potential new customers, recognize that networking events are about creating new relationships, not closing sales. No one wants to sit and listen to a sales pitch at a networking event. Focus on getting to know new people. Save the sales pitch for another day.
Have an ice breaker – For many people, the introduction is the hardest part. Once they start to talk, they can relax and be themselves – but initiating the conversation is terrifying. An easy solution is to plan your opening remark before you get to the event. It can be as simple as: “have you come to this event before?” “how did you find out about this event?” or, “what brought you to this event?”
Be a good listener – We’ve all been in those one-sided conversations where one person spends the entire time talking about themselves and never bothers to ask a question about the other party. Don’t be that person. To get the most out of networking, be ready to learn about the other person first. Be a good listener and ask questions. After a while, most people will turn the conversation around and start asking you questions. If they don’t, walk away and be glad there are a lot of other people at the event.
Set a goal – I have found that if I set a goal for myself before the event, I am more effective. Having a specific goal also allows me to determine whether I should invest my time and resources attending a similar event in the future. Don’t feel like you have to meet everyone at the event or the event is a failure. My typical goal is to find two people that I want to meet for coffee in the week following the event.
Be consistent and network on a regular basis – Like everything else in life, the more you network, the better you get at it. At the start of each month, figure out which events you want to attend and put them in your schedule. It is easy to rationalize skipping networking events. You have to make them a priority.
Follow Up – The most important part of networking is the follow up. If all you do at the end of the day is put a rubber band around the stack of business cards that you acquired, stop networking because you are wasting your time. At a minimum, send a quick email to each person that you met telling them how much you enjoyed your conversation. I try to personalize the note with something I recall from our discussion. Make sure to include your company website and a link to your LinkedIn profile in your email signature. Keep the email short and simple and avoid the hard sell. The goal is to develop your relationship with your new contact. If the person is someone who can help you in the future, suggest meeting for a cup of coffee to get to know each other better. Whether they’re a potential referral partner, a subject matter expert, or a possible customer, spending time to establish a strong foundation for any future relationship will yield great dividends in the future. The key is to have the discipline to do the follow up.