It’s a well-known fact that people prefer to do business with those they know, like, and trust. This means that making personal connections is a key to professional success.
Attending networking events is one of the best ways to get to know other business owners and potentially create some incredible referral opportunities. However, far too many people make the mistake of going to events and getting nothing out of them.
The problem is, while showing up is a great first step, it’s not quite enough. If you want to seize your next networking opportunity and make sure it’s a great use of your time, you need a solid plan. Start with these 12 simple networking tips.
1. Set a goal you can control
Before you head out, ask yourself why you’re going in the first place. Networking events can be a ton of fun, and if having a drink and chatting with friends is all you plan to get out of it, then that’s fine. But, if you want your networking efforts to support a business goal, it’s important to define it ahead of time.
Maybe you want to make three new connections or meet one person who agrees to have a follow-up meeting. Perhaps you’re hoping to meet someone who works for a specific company, or just commit to saying hello to ten people during the event. No matter what you want to achieve, setting goals you can control will help you stay focused instead of just aimlessly wandering around.
2. Get your mindset right
To get the most out of your event, you need to feel good about yourself. Pump yourself up by making sure you’re dressed in something that makes you feel confident. You’ll also want to make sure you’re prepared with plenty of business cards and a pen to take notes.
Give yourself some extra time so you don’t arrive rushed and frazzled. Once you get to the event, take a deep breath and give yourself a moment to relax so you can focus your mindset on the results you want to achieve.
3. Step out of your comfort zone
Walking into a room full of people can be intimidating, especially if you’re not used to going to networking events. However, being a wallflower won’t do you any good. If you want to make good use of your time, you’ll need to take the initiative to talk to other people in the room.
Start by looking around to see if you can find someone you know. If so, walk up and say hello. Hopefully, they will make you feel comfortable and introduce you to some of their contacts. If you aren’t lucky enough to see a friendly face in the room, try asking the host of the event to make a couple of introductions. Otherwise, take a deep breath, walk up to someone nearby, and strike up a conversation.
4. Listen first, then speak
When you introduce yourself, smile, make eye contact, and state your first and last name. Give a firm but brief handshake (or elbow bump, if more appropriate in today’s environment) and – this is important – LISTEN for the other person’s name. This may sound obvious, but it’s easy to miss when you’re nervous.
Once you’ve made an introduction, don’t make the mistake of plowing into your elevator pitch. Instead, start the conversation by asking the other person questions about themselves and what they do. This will help them relax and make it more likely that they’ll be focused when the conversation turns to you.
5. Show sincerity and interest
When talking with people at a networking event, make it a point to show both sincerity and interest. Have a few questions in your back pocket that you can use to spur a conversation. For example:
- “What’s your primary role at your company?”
- “How did you get involved in your field?”
- “How is business going right now?”
6. Have your elevator pitch ready
While you don’t want to spend the whole time talking about yourself, when the inevitable moment comes, you also don’t want to stutter over what to say. To avoid feeling awkward, make sure you can explain what you can do in two to three sentences and do it in a way that’s interesting and engaging. This doesn’t always come naturally, so it may take some practice. However, this is one of the most important skills for a networker to master.
7. Look for ways to help
When it comes to business, it’s true that “givers gain.” You have a lot to offer, so keep an ear out for ways that you may be able to help the people you’re talking to. This often won’t be about selling your products or services – instead, look for ways to make connections. For example, maybe you just met someone who is looking for a DJ for their event and you know a great one. This is the perfect opportunity for you to offer to make an introduction.
8. Be present in the moment
There tends to be a lot of distractions in a room full of people, but it’s important not to continually scan the room while you’re talking to someone. Also don’t pretend to listen while you get lost in your own thoughts or try to figure out what you’ll say next. Instead, stay focused on the person you’re speaking to and what they’re saying.
When it’s your turn to speak, pay attention to how others are reacting to you. If it looks like they’ve had enough, stop talking about yourself and change the subject.
9. Exit conversations gracefully
It’s bad form to ditch someone who is talking, but you also don’t want to get stuck in one conversation for too long. While networking certainly shouldn’t be treated like speed-dating, you’ll want to connect with at least a few different people during the event. There’s also the chance that you’ll get stuck with someone who won’t let you get a word in edgewise or who is wasting your time complaining about their boss or some other uninteresting topic.
In these circumstances, it’s a great idea to have a way out when it’s time to jump ship. No matter what, always be polite. You may give yourself a way out by saying something like, “That project sounds so interesting! I can’t wait to see you again and hear how it goes,” or “Have you seen anyone from [company name]? I have been meaning to connect with them.” This will kindly let them know that you need to step away but will give the indication that there may be room for another conversation in the future.
10. Take notes
There’s a good chance you won’t remember every conversation you had, especially if you connect with several people throughout the event. After you chat with a few people, find a quiet corner of the room where you can make a few notes on the back of each business card. This will help you remember what you talked about and the follow-up you need to do.
11. Be yourself
You may have heard the term “fake it ‘till you make it,” but you can only fake things for so long. You’ll have more fun and make authentic connections if you’re not trying to be something you’re not. Commit to being yourself and you’ll have no problem finding people who like you for who you are.
12. Don’t forget to follow up
One of the biggest mistakes a networker can make is getting too busy to follow up. A day or two after the event, make sure you block off some time to send personalized emails letting each person know you were happy to meet them and mention something you talked about. If you’ve thought of a way you can help the other person, now is the perfect time to mention it.
You’ll get the best results from your networking events if you have a structured follow-up plan that you execute every time. This may include adding the person to your CRM, typing up some notes about what you discussed, sending a follow-up email, and connecting with them on social media. Make sure you follow the process after every networking meeting and you’ll soon find that they’re generating valuable connections and making great use of your time.
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