26 Nov The Art of Networking (Part 2)
In The Art of Networking – Part 1, we talked about how important networking is and gave you a few tips and best practices. Now in Part 2, we want to talk about how to network. Imagine you are at an event, you are by yourself, not that comfortable chatting people up; what to do…help, please??!! Some people are really good at this. It’s second nature to them while others have to work a little harder. Whether it is in your DNA or not, these four steps can exponentially help you to be more effective at networking.
1. FIRST STEP IS TO SET GOALS FOR YOURSELF – Why am I networking and how do I measure success?
You might be networking because you love people and want to build a reputation for yourself as a connector. Or you might be networking because you are trying to generate leads for your business. Or you might be networking because you are trying to gain support for a cause you are passionate about. Take a few minutes before the event or networking opportunity to really think about this and set some goals for yourself. Don’t pick too many things or try to do too much. Keep it focused and manageable. You may want to simply meet 3 people you can add to your newsletter distribution. Here is an even better example. Let’s assume I am going to a women’s leadership conference. I might set myself a goal to meet 5 people that are business owners or decision makers in their company. This is nice and specific, but it’s also attainable and doesn’t stress me out. For an event like this, I might even be able to get a list of attendees in advance and target specific people I want to meet.
2. BE A CONVERSATION STARTER– How do I find the right people and what do I say?
The key to getting the conversation going is to engage and ask questions. You may be one of those people who can’t wait to get to the event and start meeting people, but lots of people are not really comfortable with it. You can take away some of that anxiety by having a plan. Let’s imagine I am at that same conference, and I just walked into the General Session. I don’t know anyone. I feel a little disoriented, but I have arrived a little early so I have plenty of time to get acclimated and get the lay of the land. First, I am going to claim a seat. There is no assigned seating, so I am going to select a table towards the middle closer to the front, but not “in front”. People that are “less comfortable” are likely to sit in the back or people that may want to leave or be in and out sit in the back. Picking a seat closer to the front is likely to have people that are more engaged in the event. Second, I am going to introduce myself to the people at the table right away…it always seems a little awkward if you wait, but if you do it right away, it breaks the ice and sets the tone.
Now you are sitting next to someone…what do you say and how do you engage in conversation? Don’t be a conversation stopper. Have you met people like this? They give one word answers “yes, no, sometimes”…full stop. Your goal is to invite conversation, so the key is to ask questions and be curious. Keep it about them and get them to do the talking. You can start with something simple, but keep it interesting. Don’t ask them what they do…boring. Get to know them as people first. Ask questions that might be relevant and give you an opportunity to connect. Write out a few things in advance that might be good, relevant conversation starters. For example, I might mention that I’m taking my daughter to college for the first time. Ask questions about them that helps you find some common ground to relate to (i.e. do you have kids? Favorite things to do on the weekend? etc.). Once you get them talking you can get back around to business. To keep them engaged in the business conversation, a few favorite phrases that work well for me have been things like: that’s interesting, how exactly does that work? Or how did you get started in your role/industry? Or I am not that familiar, what are some of the biggest issues you face? Get them to tell you more about what they do or their processes with genuine curiosity.
Don’t ask questions in a way that makes people feel like they are taking a quiz. Ask questions that invite conversation and shows your interest. Instead of “Who is your target market?” you might say, “Is there a target market that works best for you?” Most importantly, keep the conversation focused on them and what you can do for them not for your business…just for them. Think about anyone you can connect them with or resources you can suggest. They will remember you more for being helpful than for trying to sell them something. And if they are not part of your goal, that’s okay. They may know someone who is. Make them a connection and add them to your network…then move on. If you feel like you have spent a lot of time and they are not part of your goal, it may be time for a cup of Joe. You can step away and meet someone new.
3. JUST BE REAL – Is all this planning too contrived and salesy?
Having a plan will help build your confidence and help you measure the effectiveness of your time and efforts. Your time is an investment and you want to spend it wisely. So, NO, it’s only salesy if you approach it that way. At the end of the day, we are all just people and networking is about connecting and building relationships. Your conversation starters should be real things about your life, your likes and your passions. All of the planning tactics (goal setting and prepared conversation starters) are just ways to smoothly transition into a networking setting. Being prepared will allow you to relax and engage in real conversation. Think about this – the person you are talking with is probably there for the same reason you are – to make a connection. When you are yourself, you are making it easier for everyone to have a great conversation. Be real, genuine and authentic. When you are talking with them, be focused on what they are saying and be a good listener. Spend 20% of your time talking and 80% of your time listening…the golden 80/20 rule.
4. DON’T FORGET TO FOLLOW UP – How do I stay connected to the people I meet?
Connecting back with people you have met is the most critical step in the process. It’s a habit you want to create that will be worth it – I promise. It can be overwhelming to feel like you have added more “work” for yourself, so keep it simple. This isn’t like the old dating adage “Give it a few days so you don’t look too anxious.” Follow up right away, the next day if possible. It makes people feel important and that connecting with them was meaningful to you.
As you meet people, you will find interesting ways to reconnect or follow up. You can simply send an email that says “It was great to meet you and I look forward to staying connected”. Then be sure to connect with them on LinkedIn and other social channels where relevant. It reinforces that you want to stay connected. You can also find more personal ways to connect like “I will send you a few restaurants I love in that town”…then make sure you follow up. I like to put it in my phone right as I am talking to the person, so I don’t forget. It also shows my commitment and reminds me to follow up. Other people might make notes on the back of business cards or right after the event. Whatever your process is, make sure to follow up. Real connections aren’t made in just one conversation. They are made by building relationships over time.
At The Marketing Posse, we know about the power of connections and hope that these tips will help you engage in meaningful and productive conversations at your next event. Let us know how it goes at your next networking opportunity or let us know if we can help expand your network!