Tuesday, October 24, 2017

How to Make the Best of Your Next Networking Event - Your Approach & Additional Guidelines

Ah, the old business networking event is coming up and you are freaking out about attending.   So during the day of the event, you pace around your house or your office, practicing your pitch till you drop, hoping you make that one big catch of the day.  You start to wonder why do you have to network anyway.  Can't I just pick up the phone and call people.   Nada.

Attending networking events should be a never-ending part of life as a business professional.  They provide a platform for you to meet like-minded individuals and make important business connections and they may even net you a much-needed job or contract.
Despite the potential benefits of networking, few of us plan ahead and think about how to make the most of the opportunity.  But there are at least 16 strategies that successful networkers can use to connect and impress at business events.

Have a purpose. 

People use networking events for a myriad of reasons, including finding a job, meeting potential clients or just socializing.   Think "Before you arrive at an event, ask yourself what you're hoping to achieve and what you need to do to achieve it."

Research key attendees before the event.

For all Mass Professional Networking events, we provide the attendee list on the Eventbrite page for the event.
If there are individuals you're hoping to meet (and impress) at your next event, do some pre-meeting research online. Scope out these individuals' LinkedIn profiles to learn the basics about them and look for common connections.

Prepare your elevator pitch.

There's nothing worse than being asked the question, "What do you do?" and suddenly coming up blank. The idea of a traditional elevator pitch is a bit outdated, but the underlying strategy is still a good one: Come up with a few sentences you can use to accurately describe yourself or your business.  But keep it short (under 30 seconds) and then turn it around and ask questions.

Bring business cards and other supplementary info. 

This is a no-brainer, right? But it's good to have a reminder. Depending on the type of event, you may also want to bring pamphlets or other supplementary material to hand out.  But remember, people don't want to be carrying around your pamphlet so we actually advise not bringing any paper documents and send a copy of the phamplet as a follow-up with the attendee.

Introduce yourself. 

Networking events can be awkward. Particularly if you're an introvert, starting conversations may not come naturally. Vow to overcome your natural temptation to blend into the woodwork, and make a point of introducing yourself to at least five people.  When introducing yourself, shake their hand and look them in the eye with a smile.   Past research has shown that shaking someone's hand and smiling may increase the chances of having a positive interaction.

Discuss commonalities. 

When first entering into a networking event, people tend to gravitate toward those with whom they share similarities or who they know.  Think of this as the ice breaker.  When meeting others with shared traits or experiences, be sure to point out the similarities you have to increase perceived social compatibility.

Ask questions (lots of them). 

Too often I encounter people who are interested only in talking about themselves. Instead of wasting golden opportunities by blabbing about yourself, ask thoughtful questions -- and actually listen to the answers.  An idea is instead of saying "I sell this product", ask "Have you heard of this product".

Be a connector. 

Instead of focusing only on making your own connections, 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.  In my own work life all I do is connect.   Be a connector, yourself.  At our events, we are always looking for attendees to help host.  It helps break the ice once again and the networking comes easy.

Be a listener. 

Ask a person's name, and then actually listen to it and make a mental note to remember it. Most people at these events are talkers, so being a thoughtful listener can set you apart from the pack."

Keep an open posture. 

An "open" posture -- head up, arms and legs uncrossed -- conveys an openness to being approached. Looking at the floor or crossing your arms, on the other hand, can convey shyness, unfriendliness or even hostility.

Focus on quality, not quantity when it comes to your new connections. 

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, where appropriate.

Focus on how people feel when they're with you.

 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 those individuals who made them feel good about themselves."

Don't be a product-pusher.

Nobody likes that person who attends events to push products on to people.   Networking events may result in leads, but should never be used as a way to directly sell or promote products.   The exception is if you are a paying vendor at an event.

Give your full attention. 

It's tempting to continue scanning the room while you talk with someone, but this is a great way to make that person feel 2 inches tall. When you're with someone, give him or her your undivided attention, just as you would expect them to do with you.   We understand there may be temptation to weasel your way out of a dead-end conversation in order to talk with that important CEO or Business Owner who just walked in the room, but it if you end a conversation abruptly to talk to that other person, you will leave a bad impression to the person you were originally talking to.

Take notes. 

Immediately following an event (please, not during!), jot down helpful information you gleaned. These details will quickly fade in the days following an event, so taking physical notes can help.

Follow up within 48 hours. 

If you've promised to send information or connect with someone, a good rule of thumb is to do it within 48 hours after the event.  Waiting any longer may unintentionally convey disinterest.

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