Hate ’em if you will, networking events are a necessary part of life for business professionals. They help you meet and connect with like-minded individuals; they may even net you a much-needed job or contract.
Despite the potential benefits of networking, few plan ahead and think about how to make the most of the opportunity. But there are at least 18 strategies that successful networkers can use to connect and impress at business events.
- Research key attendees.
If there are individuals you’re hoping to meet (and impress) at your next event, do some pre-meeting research. Review the list of attendees when possible. Take a quick look at their LinkedIn profiles to learn the basics about them and look for common connections. Select 2-3 people that you want to meet and seek them out with intention.
- Have a purpose.
People use networking events for a myriad of reasons, including finding a job, meeting potential clients or just socializing. Before you arrive at an event, ask yourself these three simple questions:
- What am I hoping to achieve?
- How am I going to achieve it?
- Who can help me achieve it?
Knowing the answer to these three simple questions will create more purpose in your approach to networking and generate the results you want.
- Focus on quality, not quantity.
Spending time engaging in meaningful conversations with a few people is often better than floating around the room engaging in short, superficial conversations. Aim to make real connections by asking questions, listening intently and moving beyond small talk.
- Be a connector.
Make an effort to connect others. When speaking with someone, think about whether there’s someone else at the event who could help (or be helped) by this person, and then make an introduction.
Invite others to join your conversation. In a recent conversation with Robbie Samuels, Author of Croissants vs. Bagels: Strategic, Effective, and Inclusive Networking at Conferences. Robbie shares how we should be open to inviting people into our conversations like a croissant rather than closed off like a bagel.
Look for those croissant types to invite you in. Better yet, become one. Be open and inviting, make introductions as new people arrive and continue your conversation by including others.
- Keep an open posture.
Looking at the floor or crossing your arms, on the other hand, can convey shyness, unfriendliness or even hostility. An “open” posture — head up, arms and legs uncrossed — conveys approachability. A warm friendly smile helps too.
- Introduce yourself.
Networking events can be awkward especially for the introvert. Starting conversations may not come naturally to you. Overcome your natural temptation to blend into the woodwork and make a point of introducing yourself to at least five people.
Make friends with the connector in the room who will be more than happy to introduce you to other people and include you in conversations. How do you identify the connector in the room? Easy…they’re the ones greeting everyone by name with a warm friendly welcome.
- Always shake hands.
Research suggests that shaking someone’s hand may increase the chances of having a positive interaction. Always lead with your right hand, use a firm but not crushing grip, smile and make eye contact. A handshake is a sign of respect and confidence all at the same time.
- Wear your smile.
Smiling conveys happiness, openness and confidence. Smiling elevates your happiness emotions and helps you relax and appear more approachable.
- Discuss commonalities.
People tend to gravitate toward those with whom they share common ground. A great place to start is with someone who has a business that serves your ideal client base. When meeting others with shared traits or experiences, be sure to point out your similarities to increase perceived social compatibility.
- Ask lots of questions.
Instead of wasting golden opportunities by blabbing about yourself, ask thoughtful questions — and actually listen to the answers. Being genuine and truly listening are key to developing relationships. Be thoughtful and creative in your questions. For great conversations starting questions check out the 10 Conversation Starters blog.
- Don’t be a product-pusher.
Networking events may result in leads but should never be used to directly sell or promote your products. Nobody likes that guy or gal who attends events to push products on to people. No one likes to be sold, they want to get to know you first, they want to know they can trust you.
- Focus on making people feel good.
Focus on making your conversation partner feel good about themselves. You can do this through being a great listener, asking thoughtful questions and giving your undivided attention. After the event, people are more likely to remember individuals who made them feel good.
- Don’t ditch anyone for someone more “important.”
I understand the temptation to weasel your way out of a dead-end conversation to talk with someone you’ve been dying to connect with. There’s nothing wrong with subtly steering a conversation to a close, but abruptly ending it to speak with someone “better” is a definite networking faux pas.
- Take notes.
Immediately following an event, jot down helpful information you gleaned. These details will quickly fade in the days following an event, so taking physical notes can help. The back of a business card in the perfect place to jot memorable information you want to follow up on later.
- Follow up within 24-48 hours.
If you’ve promised to send information or connect with someone, a good rule of thumb is to do so within 24-48 hours after the event. Following up while your conversation is still fresh in their mind conveys sincerity and builds trust.
Create a follow up system that serves you well. Whether you use your calendar or a CRM, be sure to have a system set in place. Create a ‘Nice to meet you!” email template and send it out right away.
- Bring business cards and marketing materials.
Business cards are an inexpensive marketing piece that everyone should have. Give them away as often as possible.
Good quality marketing materials express how serious you are about your business. Your logo, image, and brand message need to be consistent from your marketing materials to your website and should be of professional quality. Invest wisely, invest in quality.
- Prepare your 30 second message.
There’s nothing worse than being asked the question, “What do you do?” and suddenly coming up blank or taking 10 minutes to explain that you sell a widget.
The idea of a traditional elevator pitch is a bit outdated, in fact most networking organizations are moving away from calling it that, but the underlying strategy is still a good one: Come up with a few sentences you can use to accurately describe who you help and how you help them.
Here’s my answer to the dreaded “What do you do?” question: Most people struggle to communicate who they are effectively in 30 seconds or less. At 30 Second Success we help people develop their 30 second messages for networking and for video.
Practice your 30 second message before you arrive. I teach clients to practice in the car on the way to events so that once they arrive they don’t have to think about what to say, they will already know it.
Most networking events will offer an opportunity for everyone to go around the room and share their 30 second message. Understanding the formula for creating an attention getting message will help you connect with your audience. Once you have that message, you’ll be able to deliver it with confidence every time.
Sample 30 Second Message: Most people struggle to communicate who they are effectively in 30 seconds or less. At 30 Second Success we help people develop their 30 second messages for networking and for video. If you’re ready to resonate with your audience and drive more business to your door, schedule a call today. I’m Laura Templeton, Founder of 30 Second Success
Being an effective networker means going into events with purpose and a plan. It also means being committed to connecting authentically with those around you. A little bit of preparation before your next networking event could make all the difference to reaching the outcome you desire.