Networking can be intimidating, especially for us introverts (no, not all salespeople are extroverts!). However, whether it’s a requirement for your job or you’re trying to promote your own business, it’s necessary and can play a big part in your success. Not only is it a cost-effective way to promote your business, it gives you direct connections to relevant people in your industry.
I still remember my first networking event. It felt like (and at times still does) the first day of school. You want to make a good impression, find your seat and make new friends. Some people you reach out to are not as welcoming as you’d like or if you’re shy, it’s hard to shine amongst the gregarious, used-car-salesmen types.
It’s ok if networking doesn’t come naturally to you. I’m here to help with a few key networking tips that will ease the nerves and bring you success. Good luck!
There’s no better way to network than to volunteer at the event. My favorite is volunteering at the registration desk. You get to be on site prior to the event starting, you have a sneak peek at the attendees list, you get to more naturally connect with attendees and/or presenters and it’s often the perfect opportunity to get to know the event organizer. Chances are, the event organizer knows several of the attendees and organize other events you can take advantage of. They can often introduce you to your targets or at least refer you to someone that can.
This is especially a great way to network for all my fellow introverts out there. I thrive in one-on-one or small group conversations and arriving to the network event early can get you just that. This way, there are fewer people, which grants you the chance to have that intimate conversation without just the simple handshake and business card exchange. A longer, more fruitful conversation will also leave an impression before the masses arrive.
We all know the obvious importance of a business card but there’s one thing many people don’t know: not to be a business card spammer. I can admit I was a culprit of this when I was new to networking; the more business cards I give out the better. Completely wrong. I throw away business cards I don’t remember receiving and guess what? Everyone else does too. If you didn’t establish a memorable connection, don’t exchange business cards.
I’ve learned that networking is about prospecting, not making a sales call. Networking gives you the opportunity to build rapport with prospective partners or clients. During this stage of getting to know someone, the most powerful thing you can be is a good listener. The last thing you want to do is roll out your sales pitch. Ask open-ended questions, like why they came to this event, what they’re looking for or what they do for their company. This will show them that you care, which is a great foundation for a new relationship.
Never underestimate the power of a firm handshake. A firm handshake generally reflects confidence, which is mandatory for networking. It is also the first non-verbal clue you give someone regarding your personality, which is sure to leave an impression.
Get in Line
Once in a while you’ll end up at a networking event last minute or to one you feel you don’t belong. Or, some networking events can become cliquey and it can make you feel lost and alone. The solution to this is to get in line. Any line! The restroom, registration or my personal favorite, the buffet or bar. When you’re in line, you have the person in front and behind to chat with without feeling out of place. You may get lucky with these people but if not, you can exit those conversations easily at the end of the line.
Preparation & Research
Is there anything worse than wandering around at an event, not quite sure where things are or who to target? Your time is precious, don’t waste it by not researching and preparing for the event. Most events will provide attendees with a list of participating companies. Investigate the attendees list and make a note of who you want to target. Research your key target’s company in order to make a strong and positive impression.
Dress for Success
Quoting the famous Oscar Wilde, “You can never be overdressed or overeducated”. Not only can you not make a first impression twice, you barely have enough time to truly get to know someone during a networking event. Your appearance will matter and will make an impression. Dress sharp, own those heels and work that floor!
The time spent at a networking event is wasted if you aren’t following up the next day. If you’re not comfortable calling them, email them or connect with them through LinkedIn. Make the follow-up genuine; if they are important enough to you for a follow up, you probably made a meaningful connection with them at the event. Mention in your message what you discussed with them or what you both had in common. This will personalize your follow up message, make it more organic and that way, you’re more likely to receive a response from them.