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Networking events are generally not opportunities for closing business. Thus, you may not likely get clients as a result of them. You may stumble upon a client. Know, however, that is the exception rather than the rule.
As you embark upon networking at events, do not consume yourself with meeting as many people as you can. Remember, meaningfully connecting is about the quality of the connection and not the quantity. You are much further ahead in time to focus on really connecting with a small handful of people rather than simply collecting dozens of business cards.
Remember, networking events are everywhere. Business after-hours are networking events. Trade shows are networking events. Business parties are networking events … so are social parties, tailgates, and really any gathering of people. Use each to expand your base of connections from which you build relationships.
In reality, the answer is “Absolutely!”. After all, every event offers value. Some offer more immediate value than others. They all have value, however.
Track your results however you deem appropriate. Before you completely pass judgment on an event, however, remember that the benefits of any networking activity may not present themselves for weeks, months, or even years.
Networking events are wonderful. The conversations can be exhilarating. And the whole experience productive. Follow Up or Follow Through regarding whatever you promised to. If you pledged to reconnect, do so. If you offered to introduce them, make it happen. If you indicated you would send them something, get it sent.
Know this, so few people follow through on what they say they are going to do. That is a sad, but true fact. Given that, if you are committed to doing so, you immediately elevate yourself ahead of a significant portion of the networking population.
As wonderful as chatting with a connection at a networking event is, do not burn out the conversation. This is not to say that you need to use the event to get out handfuls of your business cards and collect handfuls in return. That is not productive either.
It just says that you should attempt to connect enough with the person so that you are both comfortable continuing the conversation another time. Perhaps that is at the next event. Perhaps that is over coffee the next week. Whatever the case, talk for 15-20 minutes, get their contact information and pledge to get back to them.
This will allow you the opportunity to meet and connect with other people. To this end, when you find a lull in the conversation, simply suggest to them:
“I would love to keep talking, but …
o “I don’t want to occupy your whole time …”
o “There are a couple people I need to connect with before the event is over;” or,
o “I promised myself that I would meet three new, great contacts today … you make one and now I need to find two others.”
“If you do not mind, however, I would like to reach out to you later this week (early next week) and arrange a time where we can continue this conversation.”
No doubt, when interacting with others at networking events you are hopeful of getting things … clients, important contacts, and useful information. Understand this: They are too. You can make an indelible impression on them by finding some way of helping them – even if only in a small way. So as they talk, run whatever they are saying through a filter that queries: “How can I add value to this person?” This is the Golden Rule of Networking – Give first and get second.
There is nothing that says that you have to help them right there and then. If you can help them in that moment, great. If not, do not despair.
Just understand that you make the most of building that connection by trying to find some way you can add value to them later. It might be a referral. It might be a contact. It might be useful information for them.
In so doing, do not start the conversation directly focused on business or professional aspects. That can be off-putting and serve to create an uncomfortable situation. Rather, engage in some small talk. Inquire as to the origin of their name. Ask them about their impressions on the event itself. Get them talking on anything other than business. This will serve to make the connection comfortable.
After a few or even several minutes small talk, segue over to more professional topics. Ask about their business. How long have they done it? What did they do before? How did they get started?
Once the professional discussion has run its course, segue back to small talk. You can reflect on something professional they said, and tie it back to something within small talk.
As you engage in conversation, be sure to listen to what they have to say. Focus on them, and not your watch, or who is coming through the door, or anything going on around you.
You should express a genuine interest in what they have to say, especially if it is a topic that you set in motion with one of your questions. To do this, face up to them, make eye contact, and:
• Make sounds and comments to indicate understanding (or simply nod your head) … “Oh, interesting.”
• Ask questions to clarify things … “Now, when you say [blank], what do you mean?
• Echo back what they have said in summary fashion … “So you basically got into business because …”
As they talk look for things you have in common, whether they are shared backgrounds, similar experiences, or other ways to relate to them. You can use these to interject or ask questions, as a means of keeping the conversation going.
After initiating contact at a networking event (making eye contact, smiling, and saying hello) one of two things will happen:
2) They stop and are open to expanding the initial contact into a more meaningful connection.
When this happens, ensure to do these three things:
1) Handshake: Offer your hand in anticipation of a handshake, the true first impression. The handshake should be firm, intersecting your thumb web with theirs. Not too firm; a bone crusher might serve to imply dominance. And not too soft; a “limp fish” may be interpreted as disinterest. Remember, it is better to not be remembered for your handshake than to be remembered for a bad one.
2) Offer Your Name: As you shake hands, offer your name and be sure to enunciate your first name clearly. There are two reasons why this is important. First, unless it is someone you know well, offering your name serves to eliminate any potential embarrassment if the person doesn’t recall your name from an earlier encounter. Second, when you offer your name, they are likely to offer theirs in return.
3) Clarify Their Name: If the person does not reciprocate when you offer your name, ask, “What is your name?” Regardless of how you came to know the person’s name, clarify it aloud, saying something like:
“It’s great to meet you. Susan, right?” or “Hi, Susan. Do you go by Sue or Susan?”
These steps will help you better remember their name. In addition, it will subtly imply that their name is important to you, which it is.
It is simply up to you to initiate contact. That is worth repeating, it is up to you to initiate contact. Alternatively stated, DO NOT wait (or expect) others to make contact with you. Making contact is 100% your obligation, if you want a productive experience.
There is no magic to initiating contact. It only involves three simple things.
1) Make meaningful eye contact with people, where you look at them and they look you back in the eye. There is nothing strange about this. It is completely human.
2) With eye contact established, smile. This is not a forced smile, but a genuine “it is good to see you” smile. Chances are, human nature will kick in and they will smile back.
3) With that eye contact and a smile, simply say, “hello.” They may say “hello” in return, or they may say nothing.
Whatever the case, it was your objective (as well as sole obligation) to initiate contact. You have done that. Congratulations!
This sounds simple and it is. Nevertheless, this may be a little out of your comfort zone. If it is, here is a great way to practice. Go anywhere there are people (for example, shopping) and simply naturally wander around making eye contact, smiling, and saying, “hello.” It may seem unnatural at first, but in time you will develop a level of comfort that you can utilize in a more professional setting.
At networking events, appropriately position yourself. In fishing, you go to where the fish are or will be. In networking, the same logic holds. Stand where you will most likely be amongst people. Near the entrance. At the buffet or bar. Close to other high traffic areas.
If you stand outside the main stream of human flow (or worse, sit off to the side), you virtually eliminate your opportunity for having anything come from the networking event – immediately or ever.
Assuming you have positioned yourself appropriately you will encounter people. Like a parade, from your position people will go meandering by.
Not far behind is finding oneself in a room of total strangers. Even if you don’t fear that situation, you might NOT be totally comfortable with it. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
One surefire method to overcome the anxiety of being at events is to Have The Right Frame of Mind. While this may sound obvious, there are plenty of people who trip themselves up at networking events before they actually show up.
Remember that networking works, although not always exactly as you had hoped. Before you embark on the networking event, you need to truly believe that the process works and that your mere presence has set that process in motion.
While your mere presence is important, you will totally undermine your efforts if you bring with you anything but a positive disposition. Now, not every day, month or year, for that matter, can be a good one, but there is something good about each. Reflect on the positive aspects of your personal and professional life. Do what you can to be of uplifting spirits. Remember, while support groups can be a networking opportunity, most networking events are not designed to be support groups. Leave your worries at the door, to the extent possible.
Finally, embark on any networking event with a sincere expectation of the outcome. It may not be all that you hoped for, since there is no guarantee that you will get a new client out of it. But know this – something will come from you being there. You might meet someone that can refer you or put you one step closer to a new client. You might reconnect with a former client or center of influence or gain a piece of information that holds untold value. There is a plethora of potential benefit that can come from any networking event. You will never get it all, but you will always likely get something.