Estimated reading time: 4 mins
Do you go to ‘networking events’ only to leave with a feeling of disappointment and self-loathing? Then you’re probably not approaching it the right way, and missing an essential purpose.
Networking can be time-consuming and costly in personal time – they’re normally held out of office hours, biting into chow-time or stopping you slouching in front of re-runs of Breaking Bad. And I know networking can be daunting to people who are naturally shy. It takes courage to ‘wade in’ to a networking event and meet strangers.
Here are some essential tips for your next foray into networking:
- Network with purpose: go to your next networking event with a particular purpose in mind – to meet people who help you advance, and to help other people advance. Before you step through the door, know why you’re there. You might want to meet someone who can refer you to a prospect… so find that person. And if you can’t find someone, ask the next person who you talk to. You will be surprised at how willing people can be to help you at these events.
For example, I want to meet someone who is a potential buyer of consultancy in my niche, so I might ask the next person I speak to (after exchanging pleasantries) “I am looking for someone here who is a leader in a large financial services organization that is going through major change; do you know anyone here that you think I should meet?”
- When you walk in to register for the event: scan the register for people in organizations or industries you’re targeting. There are often name-badges of attendees (with their company names) laid out on a table or a paper register to sign in – this is where to look. Use it!
- Don’t latch onto just one friendly person: you can be trapped into staying with one person at these events, just because they talk to you. You establish a comfort zone, but that person isn’t going to help you progress. Be polite, be pleasant, but move on.
- Remember, they’re just people (like you): if you feel nervous, then accept it. Because other people in the room probably are too. Many people find these things a daunting prospect and have butterflies in the belly when they walk through the door. If you look around the room, you’ll spot one, or several. You could talk to one of those people, but beware that you too could become latched onto!
- It’s OK to hover and listen: standing by a group that is having an interesting conversation is fine – more often than not they will bring you in. Just listen, pay attention and look for that moment you can join in.
- Don’t pretend to be on your phone: you’re creating another comfort zone and avoiding meeting people.
- When asked “what do you do”: avoid the obvious answer – your job title. Chances are this will close the conversation. Instead, say what you achieve and why you achieve it. For example, I could answer that question: “I am a Business Change Consultant”. Big whoop. Instead I could answer this question by saying “I help organizations achieve things they’re struggling with, working with senior managers to get things done. I really enjoy making a big difference.” I might also add “Do you get frustrated when projects seem to slow down for no reason? Well that’s what I help with.”
- Ask questions: people generally want to talk about themselves. So ask lots of questions. It’s amazing how just a single question can unlock a conversation that helps you achieve your purpose. Talking about yourself doesn’t help you at all.
- Promote without selling: Nobody wants to be sold to at these events. But look back at tip six. See my additional comment? I asked a question which almost everybody would answer with a Yes: “Do you get frustrated when projects seem to slow down for no reason?” I used an opportunity to contextualize what I offer into their world. This is killer question that regularly hooks me into the person I am speaking with. I have gained many appointments from promoting my services with that simple question.
- Follow up: I speak with countless people who go to networking events, meet interesting people, and never hear from them again. Do you? That’s because they didn’t follow up. The whole point of networking is to build new, useful connections and connections that you can help. If you don’t establish that connection then all you have done is to have a nice conversation and perhaps quaff some wine and canapés.
- Relax: and take your time: you also don’t need to be a bull in a china shop – or think you should be. Ease off the pressure on yourself and don’t worry if people are not beating their way to you.
I hope these tips help you in your next networking event. Please leave a comment and tell me how it went!