‘Networking is not selling’ and if that is the only message you take from this article then I have been successful. Networking is about building relationships with people so that they get to know, like and most importantly of all trust you. Why is trust important? Because when people trust you they will refer you to people in their network, in other words they lend you their reputation and trust that you treat it like your own and not damage it.
In this article You will find practical steps to take so that you get the best out of a live networking event. For many meeting new people in a strange environment is daunting but if you follow these simple steps you should have a positive experience.
For those of you who have teams I deliver a one to two hour workshop in a breakfast briefing, lunch and learn or tailored to suit those attending. Find out more HERE.
Let’s look at the three stage process that will get you on your way.
Step one – Preparation
You have received an invitation or you have signed up to attend a networking event, what do you need to consider.
1. Check your diary to make sure that you are available that day. Is it morning or evening? Sometimes people presume it is evening when in fact it is 7.00am.
2. Where is it? Many organisations hold regular events in the same place but from time to time a company sponsors an event in their offices. Don’t presume and make sure to double check the location.
3. How long will it take you to get there? Check Google Maps at a similar time of the day. I was attending something recently and checked midday against evening and latter took twice as long.
4. Have you business cards? At face to face events it is expected that you have a business card and an electronic one is no substitute. I have developed a particular design that has worked successfully for more than 20 years albeit with text changes. If you want some help here please let me know.
5. Ask the organisers if they are circulating an attendee list and if so get a copy. This will give you a chance to check out who might be attending and help you target certain people.
Step two – The day of the event
1. Turn up early. By doing so you may get a chance to speak with the organisers. Give them a hand if they need it and that may come back to you in spades but don’t get in their way. There may be other attendees there already and so you get a chance to start your networking early. If you have not received an attendee list there may be one available on the night. Don’t be afraid to ask one of the organisers to introduce you to your target attendees but again don’t over do it.
2. It is alright to have a glass of water but try to avoid alcohol and food. It is difficult to talk to people with a sandwich in one hand and a glass of wine in the other. This is a business event so please treat it like one.
3. Engaging with strangers in an unfamiliar setting can be quite daunting but practice will help you overcome this. The room is made up of people standing in different configurations and it is important to understand this dynamic. There will be individuals standing on their own and they are the easiest to approach because they are often struggling to engage with other attendees and will be delighted to meet you. Then there are two, three and four people standing in an open stance with an obvious gap. These groups are happy to admit you once you approach in the right way and I will talk about that in a minute. The final group set up again involve two, three and four people who are all facing each other and are engaged in a conversation. Do not approach these groups as they will not welcome the interruption.
4. Opening a conversation with an individual or in a group, start with a permission question ‘do you mind if I join you’? Remember the phrase ‘do you mind’ as it so effective in many different situations for example, do you mind if I ask your name, do you mind if I call you next Thursday etc.
5. Do not rush into a sales pitch as it will be spotted, then ignored and it will do nothing to help you on your mission. Instead, have a chat about them. Start with small talk such as ‘had you far to travel, have you been a member of this organisation for long etc. Be interested in what they are saying and then ask who they are hoping to meet at this event. This will give them space to talk about their business. Ask them for a business car and automatically they will ask for yours. They will ask what you do so have a single sentence answer that encourages the response, tell me more. If they ask more do not try to sell but spend a minute to talk about the sort of people you work with but keep it short. If they seem to have a real interest then suggest a follow up cup of coffee or a phone call and agree a day and time there and then. Ask, do you mind if I write on your business card and put the details of the agreed meeting. This in itself is simple but powerful and will increase the chance of you having that conversation.
Step three – The follow up
1. Important – in LESS THAN 24 HOURS go through the cards you have collected and send an email to each contact. Confirm meetings and phone calls and if there was no follow up agreed say how nice it was to meet with them and wish them every success for the future.
2. Update your CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system and calendar accordingly. Add any notes or contacts in common.
3. Some of the people you meet may have offers that interest you or maybe of interest to those in your contact base. This is about having a 360 interest in networking. (see diagram)
Finally, the more you practice the more comfortable you will become. Networking skills spill over into your personal life where you can build up useful contacts such as plumbers, electricians, dentists etc. By having personal relationships with key people who you may need to contact at some time in the future is gold and should not be underestimated.