Our networking 101 series will cover every element of growing your database of business connections, from finding the right people to connect with, to working the room and building meaningful relationships. In previous editions we’ve covered getting the thinking right, building your connections and creating an elevator pitch. In part four we look at the strategies you can employ to stand out at a face-to-face networking event.
So you’ve started building a virtual network, your elevator pitch has been polished to perfection and you’re looking forward, perhaps with some apprehension, to a real-life event. Following our winning tips to ensure you make the most of the opportunity.
1. SET A TANGIBLE GOAL
In the first part of Networking 101 we looked at the importance of knowing your purpose when it comes to building your network, asking yourself what benefits you’re hoping to incur. Look back at your notes from that exercise and see if you can refine them in relation to the event you’re attending. For example, if one of your overarching goals is simply to meet and talk to as many industry players as possible, think about the types of individuals attending this event who’ll be on your target list for conversations.
Or if there’s a particular hole in your knowledge that you’re looking to fill through new connections, determine what it is you most need to know and who on the guest list might be able to offer you help.
2. BE CLEAR ABOUT WHAT YOU’RE OFFERING
TIP: If your networking event includes a panel interview or talk, stand out by having some great questions planned in advance. Find out who’s talking and on what subjects and raise your hand with a thought-provoking question.
In Getting the thinking right you explored what it is you personally bring to your network. Look at your notes and start to think more broadly about what you can offer others, remembering that the most successful relationships forged at your forthcoming event will be those based on mutual benefit. Perhaps you’ve a bulging contacts book that can help position you as a great connector. Maybe you’ve niche industry knowledge you can share for free with small business owners in attendance. Or maybe you’re just a great conversationalist who others will enjoy spending time with and getting to know. Whatever it is, consciously tapping into your networking strengths will enable you to utilise them to best effect on the day.
3. CHOOSE YOUR ICE-BREAKERS UP FRONT
TIP: Looking the part can be a great icebreaker. If you’re wearing something unusual or eye-catching (while remaining professional) you might find others are drawn to you with a natural conversation opener.
Consider your strategy for dealing with any fears you might have about striking up conversations with strangers. If you’re an introvert who hates the idea of walking into a crowded room, why not turn up early so that you can start to feel at home in the space and welcome others into something more akin to your own territory. If the thought of being asked, “So, what do you do?” terrifies you despite all the work you’ve done to create your elevator pitch, can you be the one to make the first move and get the question in first? Taking along a friend or colleague for moral support can be another great way to ensure you don’t feel out of place, but be wary of spending the evening chatting only to your guest; plan to circle the room individually for 15 minutes at a time, knowing you’ve the safety need of seeing a familiar face in just quarter of an hour or less.
Finally, ensure you’re up to date on any industry or world news that is likely to come up in conversations. Appear informed and have an opinion, while being open to what others have to say on the subject.
4. DIAL UP YOUR CURIOSITY AND BE A GREAT LISTENER
One of the best ways to be memorable is to make others feel great about themselves, and one of the ways you can do this is to listen. Ask open-ended questions; seize the opportunity to learn more about people from new walks of life; show that you’re interested through your body language and active listening techniques.
5. PLAN YOUR EXITS
If you’ve enjoyed a great conversation with a new contact or it’s simply time to move on and meet more new faces, it’s wise to have a few tricks up your sleeve for exiting gracefully. If you’d like to keep in touch with someone, you can wind the conversation down by suggesting you swap cards and get in touch in the coming days to arrange a coffee. A great way to end conversations is to introduce whomever you’re speaking with to someone else you know – explain why you think they might benefit from a quick chat and then leave them to get to know one another. Or you might simply tell them that you don’t want to monopolise their time, but that you’ve enjoyed meeting them and would like to connect on LinkedIn.
6. KEEP RECORDS OF WHO YOU MEET
Unless you’ve a remarkably good memory, it’s unlikely that a few days down the line you’ll have a good recollection of every conversation you’ve had. As you collect business cards and exchange promises to connect or meet up in future, it’s worth taking a moment or two out to jot down useful details, such as someone’s passion project which you can remember to ask them about next time you meet.
In the next instalment of Networking 101, we look at the importance of the post event follow-up in developing your network.