Do you get butterflies in the stomach at the mention of networking at business functions? Do they fill you with dread? Read on…
It’s in the evening and you’d rather be home doing other things. As you look round the crowded room everyone looks engaged and appears to be talking animatedly. They seem to know each other and you know no-one. Whom do you go up to? How do you break into the conversation? Are you clear why you’re at the session? How will you know if it’s been a worthwhile evening?
You’re not alone in facing these questions. Many people feel uncomfortable and see networking as a waste of time. Yet if you follow some basic principles, it can make a huge difference in generating new business as well as increasing the number of contacts you have. Here's how to make the most of working a room as well as enjoy it at the same time.
1. Start with the end in mind
Be clear about what you’re aiming to achieve. Think about how you will introduce yourself. You want to create a positive first impression. Take some business cards. This makes it easier for others to contact you. Decide you want to make the most of the event. This will help you feel upbeat and enthusiastic.
2.Set a goal for the number of people you want to meet
Consider how many people you would like to talk to and how many cards you would like to take away. Make sure this is stretching yet achievable and don’t leave until you’ve met your goal. This can give you the impetus to move on in the conversation.
3. Act like a host, not a guest
If you adopt the mindset of a host you are more likely to be proactive in greeting people, introducing yourself and asking people if they would like to meet others. You can create as strong an impression by being a conduit for people.
4. Breaking into groups
Avoid approaching two people who seem to be talking intensely. Instead approach groups of three or more. Stand close by and acknowledge what’s being said through your body language and facial expressions. Seize the right moment to make eye contact and say ‘hello’ or add something to the conversation.
5. Make your introduction interesting
An effective introduction is brief and memorable; it needs to have sufficient impact to get the interest of the group. Rather than describe your organisation or job in terms of features, think about the benefits either one brings, eg ‘I’m a financial planner and help investors get the best returns’. Your goal is to give others a hook to ask questions or to remember you by. So think about something unusual about your organisation rather than just stating its name, for example.
6. Get to know each other
If you disclose something about yourself or your interests you are opening the door for others to get to know you better. Share something positive. If all you do is whinge about the world or talk about your pet hate you may convey the wrong impression. Limit what you say to avoid the risk of being labelled a bore. Don’t assume others know about your business. Once you open up, others will follow suit.
7. Listen and aim to give value
Listening is crucial when networking and it’s only too evident when someone is not paying attention to you. Find out about the person/people in the group, uncover ways you can be a useful resource to them. Show a genuine interest in the person – you’re more likely to find common ground as they open up. People want to spend time with people they like and trust.
8. Change your focus from ‘what’s in it for me?’ to ‘what can I offer you?’
People quickly work out if someone is aiming to sell to them or is only interested in taking what they can get. Networking is about developing relationships with others, so meeting people at events is about starting the process, not ending it. If you give value by helping them in some way – by giving them a referral or offering some information – they’re more likely to spend time with you and respond to your follow-ups.
9. Breaking away
You may feel uncomfortable or rude breaking away from a conversation, even though such events or cocktail parties are designed for people to circulate. If you’re enjoying the company, suggest that you both join another group. If you want to get away completely, or the conversation has run its course, say something like ‘it’s been great to meet you, I hope you enjoy the rest of the event’ or ‘let’s keep in touch’. Don’t over-complicate your exit, just make your voice tone sound final, and then move away.
10. Follow up afterwards
Ask each person you meet for two cards – one to pass on and one to keep. It’s a powerful way of demonstrating you’d like to refer them to someone, or vice versa. Make a note on their business card of what you’ve promised to do for them, so you don’t forget. Or note down a memorable feature of their image, or the conversation, to remind you of who they are. If you’re meeting lots of people, it’s easy to lose track. As soon as possible afterwards, drop them a line or give them a call and do what you said you would do. They’ll be delighted that you remembered them. Agree how you’ll keep in touch going forward.
These tips really make a difference if you put them into practice. If you use them you will soon find you build up your contacts and generate more business.