By Jennifer E. Goldman, President
Who doesn’t love a networking event? They typically include food and drinks, friends and colleagues. Very attractive.
But how do you network? I love to be a fly on the wall, a silent spectator…for a few minutes. It’s always interesting to me to watch how different professionals handle a room full of people at a networking event. Some of them are socializing, some of them are wallflowers, some of them are working hard, but some of them, a rare few, are actually networking like a pro.
The next time you walk into a networking event, take a look around and see if you can spot which people are really doing what networking is meant to do. It’s probably not difficult. They look confident and people are waiting in the wings to speak to them.
The point of networking is not to put a business card into the hands of each individual in the room. It’s not about telling everyone what you do. Nor is it about leaving the event with new clients all lined up.
Networking is a two way street like most communication; it’s about starting new professional relationships. Who wants to be in a relationship with someone who talks constantly and never listens, or with the person who’s interested in you only until the next person walks into the room?
It’s pretty easy to network properly, and it’s a lot of fun. The better you get at it, the more enjoyable it is. The next time you go to a networking event try this: plan to introduce yourself to 3 people you’ve never met, or whom you’ve met but don’t know what they do (when you get better, try 5). Do NOT hand them a card as you introduce yourself and DON’T launch into your elevator pitch. Shake their hand, look them in the eye as you tell them you’re name, ask for their name and immediately ask about what they do. Ask a couple of follow-up questions to better familiarize yourself with what their company is all about. During your part of the conversation relate what they’re telling you to something or someone you know. (Not about your business, but as a way to show that you’re listening, absorbing, engaged.)
If the person you’ve introduced yourself to is a good networker, the conversation won’t go on for too long before they ask about your company and what you do. I would still stay away from the elevator pitch – you’re not trying to make a sale. Just have a conversation. As you explain what you do, relate it back to how someone in their profession might use someone like you, or tell your new friend about a project you’re working on.
Another great way to start the conversation after introducing yourself is to ask, “So, if you could work with anyone in the world, who would be your dream client and why?”
Keep in mind that everyone’s time is precious and don’t monopolize it. Keep the conversations fairly brief – don’t rush people off as if you have someone better to talk to, but thank them for their time and tell them that you don’t want to keep them from meeting more people. At THIS point hand them a card and ask for theirs, if you think you might like to keep in touch.
At the end of the event you’ll have a few business cards from people you just met and hopefully a couple of them are people you can see yourself maintaining a professional relationship with. They won’t all turn into clients and you won’t turn into one for all of them, but that’s beside the point – you’ve made new contacts that you may be able to refer people to and who may be willing to send people your way as well.
But what will you do with the business cards? Attend a couple of these events a month and they start to stack up! #1 on the No No list: do NOT go home and add them to your Constant Contact/eBlast list! The best thing I’ve found (and it wasn’t me – it was a man I met at an event who made my networking skills look pale by comparison) is to contact the professionals you’ve met that you would like to keep in your trusted circle of allies within 48 hours…on the phone. Call and tell them how great it was to meet them and set up a one-on-one casual meeting so you can find out in greater depth about their business and possible future opportunities that will mutually benefit both your businesses.
In the end, it isn’t about building a business card collection (unless you’ve got an office wallpaper craft project going), it’s about finding other professionals you trust, respect and are comfortable doing business with, or to whom you can refer other professionals who trust you.