Contrary to what many believe, networking events are not about pressing your business card into as many hands as you can. They’re great opportunities to learn about what other people are looking for. As you listen, you will find that what you offer may be exactly what the other person seeks. Being interested in other people is very inviting. It is also a lot less stressful than taking a deep breath and saying as much about yourself as you possibly can before the other person’s eyes glaze over. Here are some tips to make the most of your next networking event:
1. Ask open-ended questions in networking conversations. This means questions that ask who, what, where, when, and how as opposed to those that can be answered with a simple yes or no. This form of questioning opens up the discussion and shows listeners that you are interested in them. According to “The Power of Approachability” by Scott Ginsberg, it’s your “CPI”. This acronym stands for the Common Point of Interest. It’s an essential element to every conversation and interaction. Your duty, as you meet new people, or even as you talk with those you already know, is to discover the CPI as soon as possible. It connects people to you. It allows them to feel more comfortable talking to you. And it increases your approachability inasmuch as people will be magnetized to you due to the commonality you share. A great tip is to ask the right type of questions. Avoid asking people about the weather, you can do better than that! Instead, ask questions that begin with “What’s your favorite…” “Tell me the best…” or “When was the last time…” The CPI is almost guaranteed to be discovered.
2. Don’t Cross Your Arms Even if it’s cold, even if you’re bored, even if you’re tired and don’t want to be there – don’t cross your arms. It’s such a simple, subconscious non-verbal cue that too many people practice and it hinders their approachability. As a result, people won’t want to “bother” you. They will form the impression that you are defensive, nervous, judgmental, close minded or skeptical. Honestly, would you want to approach someone like that? I know I wouldn’t.
3. Don’t Assume Every time you assume, you end up making an … yeah, yeah, yeah – we get it. Or do we? How many times have we uttered one of the following sentences, only to be stricken with a terrible case of “Foot-In-Mouth Disease?”
- You must be new here?
- How’s work going?
- Do you remember me?
Remember, just because someone walks in whom you’ve never seen before – doesn’t mean he’s new. Or just because you’re at a networking meeting – doesn’t mean everyone in attendance has a job. And believe me, not everyone you remember – remembers you. Approachability is a function of comfort, so it’s important to sidestep these moments of embarrassment with Success Sentences. These are phrases that allow the other person to offer you the information you need to know. Examples include, “I’m not sure we’ve met before,” “What are you working on this week?” and “I’m Janine, we met last month at the Chamber meeting.”
4. Become known as a powerful resource for others. When you are known as a strong resource, people remember to turn to you for suggestions, ideas, names of other people, etc. This keeps you visible to them. Keep in mind that networking is about being genuine and authentic, building trust and relationships, and seeing how you can help others.
5. Have a clear understanding of what you do and why, for whom, and what makes you doing it special or different from others doing the same thing. In order to get referrals, you must first have a clear understanding of what you do that you can easily articulate to others. Too often people in conversations ask, “How may I help you?” and no immediate answer comes to mind. Be prepared to tell people what you do in 30 seconds or less. What you do is not your job or position but the solutions you offer. For example, as a Coach, I show people how to turn their desire into results faster and easier. What happens because of what you do?
6. Decide in advance whom you want to meet. Let’s say you are attending the event to meet potential employers or find job leads. Start by defining your ideal job. Be as specific as possible. Clarity is magnetic! Clarity helps you recognize opportunity and helps others bring opportunity to you. Your objective then becomes meeting individuals who can move you closer to your ideal job. When you are in conversation with someone new, ask questions that will help you learn about what that other person is looking for and then match his or her responses against what you are looking for. The more closely the match, the easier it is to lean into the other person’s situation with your solution.
7. Practice listening. In the movie, “Michael,” Andie McDowell’s character asks Michael how he knew she wasn’t who she said she was. He leans toward her and whispers, “I pay attention!” Listening is a verb. Practice listening to what the other person is saying and not saying. Listen for opportunity for both of you.
8. Keep moving! Resist the temptation to settle into one place or into conversation with one person, particularly if that person is someone you came with or is someone you already know. If you attend the event with someone, agree to meet at regular intervals to check on each other’s progress or arrange to hook up at the end of the event to swap experiences.
9. Create a tag line for your name badge that will stimulate curiosity and conversation. An actor I heard about wrote “Multiple Personality” as her tag line. It always generates curiosity about what she does and leads to interesting conversations about the kind of acting jobs she is looking for. “Money” is another word that gets people talking and makes an excellent tag line for individuals in banking, finance or related enterprises. What interesting word or phrase best describes what you do?
10. Ask for help meeting people. This one is so simple it can be easily overlooked. If you don’t know anyone at the event you can always ask to be introduced. When you check in at the registration desk, ask someone there to suggest a member or attendee who could introduce you to a few people. If you already know someone at the event, ask that person to help you. Once the initial introductions have been made, you can ask each new person you meet to introduce you to someone he or she knows. Repeat the process until you have met as many new people as you had intended.
11. Bring your business cards! I meet people all the time who, when I ask them for a card, tell me with much embarrassment and apologies that they “just ran out” or “forgot them.” Attending an event without a supply of business cards is unattractive and selfish. It makes it harder for the other person to do business with you–the exact opposite of the impression you want to create. Keep a supply of cards in your car, briefcase, office, purse and/or pocket. Make sure your cards are easy to access. I suggest that clients put their cards in a right side pocket so it’s easy to reach in and extract one to give to the person they are speaking with. Put the other person’s card into your left side pocket. At the end of the event, you will have all the cards in one place. No pockets? Put all the cards you collect into the front of your card case. When you meet people who are good prospects for your product or service and they say they “just ran out” of cards, show them how you make it easy for people to work with you. Pass them your card with a pencil and ask them to fill out their contact information on the back. Make notes on the back of the cards you collect to remind yourself later about the people that you’ve met and what you want to remember about them. Make sure you collect their card too so it’s easier for you to follow-up vs. waiting for them to reach out to you.
12. Follow through quickly and efficiently on referrals you are given. When people give you referrals, your actions are a reflection on them. Respect and honor that and your referrals will grow. Call those you meet who may benefit from what you do and vice versa. Express that you enjoyed meeting them, and ask if you could get together and share ideas.
Try out these tips at your next networking event and let us know how it goes! If you still find yourself intimidated, worried, shy or dreading these events, contact us for a complimentary consultation to help address the underlying causes of your distaste for networking!