Feel faint? Blood freezing in your veins? Cold chills running up your back? Upper lip and hands sweating profusely? Is it the flu? Something you ate? Are you watching the latest horror film?
No…you are attending a networking event!
Do you get these physical manifestations of stress at the thought of walking into a room full of strangers? Well, you certainly are not alone. Business people the world over experience similar reactions to this very stressful activity. But, like insurance, networking is a necessary evil.
Put in a more positive light, networking is an essential way to get your face, name and company recognized in your business community. As the saying goes, people do business with people that they know, like and trust. Networking is a key method to establishing familiarity, relationships and trustworthiness.
So, you know you have to do it. How can you make it less painful? Here are some suggestions culled from experts in the field.
Have a Plan – Prepare for the event as you would any other important engagement. Set out with goals and objectives. Approach the event with something as simple as ‘I want to have 4 meaningful conversations’ or ‘I want to meet three new people’. By all means, say hello to people you may already know, but don’t stand in the corner eating hors d’oeuvres and talking with same people. Set as your goal making new contacts and planting new seeds, not just farming the field with people you already know.
It is not all about you – Resist the urge to dominate the conversation and fill in the conversational voids with more inane information about yourself. Engage the other person; ask about their business and how you may help them. Try to find shared experiences, other contacts, something in common. This demonstrates not only interest, but will establish the setting for a dialogue instead of a one-way exchange.
He who collects the most cards doesn’t win – Many business people buzz through a networking event and consider themselves successful if they walk out of the room with a pocketful of cards. But that is the exact opposite of what networking is about; it is about making meaningful connections and seeking ways to help others accomplish what they need to do. Ask what keeps them awake at night, what their challenges are. Find a way to help the people you meet and they will find a way to help you. Reciprocity and giving back are more important than collecting the most cards.
Even I’m bored with my 30-second commercial – Develop an interesting, specific and results oriented response to the question of “What do you do?” Speak to benefits vs. features in your statements and try to vary it with your audience. Drop the rote delivery in favor of changing intonations, making it more conversational. Practice your statement as part of your preparation activities before entering the room.
Ask for the appointment and move on. The event is not the appointment. Set a specific day and time to get together to talk further. Find out how the other person likes to be engaged – are they a phone person or does email make more sense. Make notes on the back of their business card for future reference. I know of one gentleman that has a specific code system involving which corner is bent back – upper right – call them; lower left, send them an email. Or you may separate cards in specific pockets based on your perception of their interest in follow up and how best to follow up with them.
Follow Up – This is the biggest bugaboo that I hear from business people. ‘I don’t have the time to follow up’ is often the excuse. When you are having fewer, but more in-depth conversations, you will not only have fewer people with whom to follow up, but you will also have more success in finding something in common – and by the way, that point of commonality does not have to be just business. Hobbies, interests, fellow contacts can act as a bridge to help develop the relationship further.
Call, email or send a hand-written note within 48 hours of the event. And don’t expect one contact to result in a new client. Research indicates it can take an average of 5 – 8 contacts to convert a warm lead to a client. Needless to say, you are also looking for referral partners, so don’t expect everyone that you meet will be your clients – they are the connection to their network. I believe the statistic is that every person knows an average of 250 people. You are looking for access to that broader pool. It’s the same viral concept that LinkedIn and Facebook leverage – each person tells two people and your impact rises exponentially.
Yes, it is horrifying and frightful sometimes to put yourself out there in a networking venue. With practice, structure and a purpose in mind, you will find it less of a Trick and more of a Treat.