5 Strategies that will take the WORK out of Networking!
Networking! It can drive the introverted business person to the corner and the eager beaver to the mirror practicing their elevator speech. But, let’s get you somewhere in the middle. Networking events are one of my favorite ways to do business. Because, you’re not really doing business. If you can remember this one thing, you will always have a good time and make some great connections at the next Business After Hours you attend. That one thing is – a networking event isn’t a place to do business, it is a place to make and build relationships.
Having said that – there is one more thing - Even before you head out the door, you should know what your goals are for the event. Are they to meet a specific person, 10 new people, or reconnect with a past client you know will be there? Set a goal. I know, I say set goals for everything, but I am a true believer in goals. If you have a goal to walk out of this event having made 10 brand new connections, that will be on your mind and therefore, it will happen. Here are some strategies to help get to that goal.
Grab some business cards, a pen and let’s go networking!
Be mentally Prepared
You tell yourself, “I’ve been to hundreds of these things – this is just one more, same as the last.”. And you can certainly look at it that way, head right to the buffet and have a snack. Or, you can get yourself in the right mindset. You’ve just worked all day. How did your day end? Are you feeling frazzled? Have you drunk enough water? Before heading out try grabbing a cool glass of water, sitting in a quiet place (mine was always my car), and close your eyes for 5 minutes. Think about what your goal is, think about how great it will be to connect with people you know and haven’t’ seen for a while, think about those that will be pleased to see and meet you.
Being in an alert, relaxed state of mind will open you up to all the possibilities of the next couple hours. Would you want to walk up to someone you’ve never met that is on edge and jumpy? Pretty sure no! Why not make it easier for people to approach you – of course, with your goal, you will be doing most of the approaching! Put a smile on your face and head on in!
Arrive on Time
This one may be harder, depending on your work schedule, but if there is any way for you to arrive in the first 15 min of an event – you will be better for it. If you are in anyway introverted, this is the most important thing next to being mentally prepared. There are fewer people there now, so you will have the opportunity to have more meaningful conversations that are not shouted over the sound of a crowd.
If you arrive later than a half hour after the event has started, people have been able to get a little more settled in. They have plates in their hands, they have already established a comfort zone of people they know, they have run out of business cards. You will be one step ahead if you are already half way to your goal a half hour into the evening.
Meet Up with A Friend
This may seem counterintuitive, but hear me out. This has turned out to be a great strategy for me. If you meet a friend there, you can make an agreement to always approach people at least one of you doesn’t know. There will always be a warm connection, which can be comforting to those that really don’t like approaching strangers. In any case, having a mutual acquaintance do the introduction is always a great ice breaker. The conversation is just natural from there, “John tells me you enjoy fishing, were have you gone lately?”
You can also share goals and keep each other motivated. Networking can be a tiring enterprise if you don’t enjoy it – so why not make it fun. Last one to reach the goal buys the wine! Hey, whatever it takes!
Be Prepared with Questions – and to Listen
If the networking event is being hosted by a company, take a moment to look at the website and find out some key facts about the company. If nothing else, this will ingratiate yourself with the host. But, these are also great conversation starters when you are talking with someone you just met. Once you find out a little more about them – ask more questions about them. Get them engaged in telling you stories that they like to share. You will leave them with a positive feeling about themselves and the meeting.
Being a good, active listener will pay off in spades when it comes to any follow up meetings. Just by listening you can find out all kinds of tidbits about the individual besides where they work and what they do – which you can read on their business card. So, have fun with it. Listen to the story about baking with the grandkids, or restoring that old Pontiac. These stories will take you right to my last strategy…
People tell me this is the hardest and most overlooked part in all their business. Maybe because none of us get really lit up over receiving yet another “It was good to meet you at the event last night” email. But you are smarter than that – you were a good listener AND you brought a pen. When you get to the car, or are home that night, jot down some notes on the back of the cards you collected that night – likes fishing, volunteers at the hospital, knits – just a couple words to trigger the conversation the next day.
Then, have a little fun. Send the person that likes to fish a link to an article on a great fishing excursion to take, send the volunteer a blog post on the health benefits of volunteering – you get the idea. Spend a little extra time making an impression. THEN ask them if they would like to get together and learn a little bit more about each other’s’ businesses and if you can help each other at all. You have already showed you are a good listener and someone who acts on what you learn – what a great way to build trust in a new relationship!
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