by Lori Padgett
According to Webster’s New World Dictionary, a network is a “group, system, etc. of interconnected or cooperating individuals.”
Choosing An Event/Group
- Visit as many groups as possible that spark your interest. Notice the tone and attitude of the group. Do the people sound supportive of one another? Does the leadership appear competent? Many groups will allow you to visit two times before joining.
- Attend events consistently. Going just once every few months is almost a waste of time for networking purposes. Building business relationships takes time and patience.
- Have a clear understanding of what you do and why, for whom, and what makes you special or different from others doing the same thing. You must first have a clear understanding of what you do before you can articulate it to others.
- Establishing and building relationships, not hard selling, is the key to successful networking. Be prepared to share your expertise and contacts.
- Crucial to your success is that you treat networking as an exchange of ideas, information and experience. You are not selling or simply telling or “sponging” off of others for your own benefit only. Be generous in sharing your talents, experiences, and ideas, and always be respectful of those around you.
- Keep in mind that networking is about being genuine and authentic, building trust and relationships, and seeing how you can help others.
- Make people feel important, in order to make yourself important to them.
- To avoid being tongue-tied when you try to start a conversation with someone you don’t know, prepare a self-introduction that is clear, interesting, and well delivered. It shouldn’t be longer than 8-10 seconds. Although practicing your introduction might at first seem silly and artificial, it will eventually help you make an introduction that sounds natural, confident, and smooth.
- Dress for the occasion. This could mean dressing the way that your customers dress or dressing the way that they expect you to dress. First impressions are made in a matter of seconds.
- Have your own name tag with business name made up – it’s inexpensive and shows professionalism. It also shows that you are prepared and pay attention to detail.
- Organize yourself. Always carry a pen and paper with you during an event to jot down miscellaneous information that you may need to remember. (i.e.: a reminder to send a contact further information about your product or services). Never, never, never, write on a business card that a contact has given to you. Many people view this as disrespectful and bad manners, and you can never tell if the person that you have just met will be someone who views it this way.
- Never leave home without your business cards!
Prior to the Event
- Let preparation and practice be your guide. Spend some time planning your conversation generators.
- In many networking events, you will find yourself with time to “mingle” among the other attendees before the formal program begins. It may be beneficial for you to spend some time planning and preparing how you will “work the room” to get the most from your efforts.
At the Event
- Arrive early. It’s much harder to break in on conversations when you arrive late.
- Wear your name tag on the right side to provide an easy sight-line to your name when shaking hands.
- Not sure how to approach someone? Simply smile, nod your head, walk forwards with hand stretched out and say, “I just wanted to come over and say hello.” (Sounds daft but it works.) Say your name clearly. “My name is (your name in full). It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
- Approach and introduce yourself to people standing alone, or groups of three or more. When two people are talking together, there is a possibility that they know each other and are engaging in a personal conversation. However, their body language (i.e.: are they facing each other as they talk?), will give you a good indication if they are approachable.
- Have an effective handshake. You’ve probably been on the receiving end of at least one “bone-crusher” and one “limp fish.” Practice your handshake to avoid giving one of those yourself! Also, always keep your right hand free, and hold drinks in your left hand to avoid cold, wet greetings.
- Start with small talk.
- Use an “elevator” speech: describe who you are or what you do in ten seconds or less
- Ask open-ended questions in networking conversations. This means questions that ask who, what, where, when, and how as opposed to those that can be answered with a simple yes or no. This form of questioning opens up the discussion and shows listeners that you are interested in them.
- Ask “feel good’ questions like, “How did you get started?” or “What do you consider a challenging project?” You will learn a lot about your contact’s business, while showing interest in them as a person.
- LISTEN CAREFULLY, and don’t monopolize the conversation.
- When appropriate, offer a business card, and ask the other person for one of his or hers. Sometimes, it is more appropriate to exchange business cards only when you depart from one another. Whenever you give a business card, ask for a business card. When given one, don’t just take it and place it in your pocket. Make the person feel important by looking at their card for a few seconds. You might see something that could be a topic of discussion. . Confirming the information is a nice way to engage. Then place it in your wallet or in your jacket pocket.
- Some people give 2 business cards as standard practice. That way, their contact has one card to keep and one card to pass on to someone else, or perhaps to keep in a different location.
- Don’t stay too long in one place. After eight to ten minutes of conversation with a contact, excuse yourself with a pleasantry such as, “It was nice meeting you …
- Again, take your business cards absolutely EVERYWHERE! Maximize every “per chance” meeting. You never know when you might meet someone who can help you. Family or friends social events could produce unexpected encounters with people. So you’re going to a birthday party for your friend’s child. You never know who you might meet there.
After the Event
- Once the event is over, your networking doesn’t stop! Be sure to follow up with those people you’ve met, keep in contact, share information and offer to help in any way you can.
- Be sure to send a written acknowledgement or “Thank You” note to your networking contacts.
- It’s also a great idea to send a “Thank You” note to the host or sponsors of the event. You will be remembered for it.
- Call those you meet who may benefit from what you do and vice versa. Express that you enjoyed meeting them, and ask if you could get together and share ideas. You want to build the relationship, so take the first step!
- Follow through quickly and efficiently on referrals you are given. When people give you referrals, your actions are a reflection on them. Respect and honor that and your referrals will grow.
Tips For Sit-Down Events
- Some networking events will provide a meal. It is crucial to practice good table etiquette to make the best impression.
- At a sit down affair, don’t sit as soon as you get there. Keep moving around and networking as long as possible.
- At the dinner table, introduce yourself at the beginning of the evening to everyone at your table. If you are familiar with the others at the table (whether you knew them previous to the event, or have just met them), make the introductions. Proceed as if you are the host of the table.
- Listen to learn. Start the conversation by asking questions, such as why people are there, what they hope to gain, how they found out about the event, etc.
- Keep your business cards handy, but not on the table. Do not deal them out impersonally.
- Consider volunteering to help out at various networking event. This puts you in a better strategic position for meeting people and passing your business card along. Others might view you differently, if they know you are willing to go the extra mile in helping them. This is a great way to stay visible and give back to groups that have helped you. Zig Ziglar, one of the most successful sales trainers in the world says “if you help enough people get what they want in life, you will get what you want in life”.
- Risk rejection – it’s not the end of the world. Rejection happens to everyone at one point or another. Some individuals may not respond to your introduction in the way you would like. If that happens, don’t take it personally. Politely move on. Maintain an outgoing and friendly attitude and always keep your sense of humour!
- Never make assumptions about the person you are talking to. Everyone has friends, colleagues, relations and contacts, and one of them might be just the person you need to speak to.
- Do not hand out anything other than your business cards at an event. If a contact is interested in more information, send them a brochure or other information after the event. This provides you with a great opportunity for a future follow-up with them.
- Networking involves WORK. With preparation, effort and enthusiasm, you’ll get a great deal out of it.
- Don’t feel intimidated. It doesn’t matter how big or small your business is. You are dealing with a person. They have the same hopes and fears that you have.
- Remember you have one mouth and two ears. Use them proportionately and you’ll be well on your way to being a successful networker!
Lori Padgett is the Owner of Apex Administration and can be contacted through her website at: http://www.apexadministration.com