For the longest time I avoided networking events like the plague. I seemed to run into the same cast of characters. There was the person who just wanted to collect my card so they could add me to their mailing list and flood my in-box with newsletters and announcements that I neither asked for nor need. I’m still unsubscribing to some of these (insert eye roll). Another person was only there to catch up with her circle of friends and would look at me like I was interrupting their party when I attempted to introduce myself. There was the person who gave me the “stank-eye” when I made eye contact because he was just there for the food, the booze (if served), and to “get away from the office.” Trust me, these folks have no desire to talk, no desire at all. Other people would blow me off because they figured they didn’t need my company’s services so why waste time talking to me. Of course, there was the person who always tried to monopolize my time talking endlessly about their product or service in hopes of closing a sale on the spot. And the list goes on. Yes, I used to just stay away from networking events…until I learned how to leverage the opportunity and build relationships. Now, I not only attend networking events, I get a lot out of them.
Here’s a few tips I’d like to share on how to leverage networking events when you’re a non-networker like me:
The Pre-networking Game Plan
Evaluate the event’s target audience and whether it’s a true networking event or an event where you meet interesting people to network with. Example, is there time to walk around and meet people or am I limited to only talking to the people at my table?
Networking events are about making connections and meeting new people. This is hard to do if you’re there with a good friend spending time playing “catch-up” instead of meeting new people. It’s always nice to see familiar faces at an event; however, limit the time spent talking with people you already know, it’s not the reason you’re there. The exception to this is if a good friend or person that you already know is able to make introductions to others at the event.
Meet The Fabulous Five
Give yourself a time limit and a relationship limit. This is important for “non-networkers.” For example, set a goal to meet and get to know 5 new connections within an hour and a half. Not only does this prevent you from becoming a “card-pusher”, it puts the focus on really getting to know people and making a lasting impression. To ensure you stick to the plan, just bring the number of cards to match your connection goal plus an extra one, just in case.
Ask The Right Questions
Remember, there are no boring people, just boring questions. So ask great questions if you want to get to know great people and enjoy good conversation. Also, focus your questions on the person vs. their profession. For example, I’ve asked people about their fitness routines (if they look fit), names of great restaurants, interesting places to visit, most recent bucket list item they checked off, thoughts on Charlotte’s explosive growth, interesting business books or a book they recently finished, interesting people worth following on social media, other networking events they’ve attended, and my list goes on. Since we do business with people we know, like and trust, I use networking events as an opportunity to get to know someone to see if I would potentially refer business to them. Next, I swap cards to get their information and schedule a time to meet and talk business. My intention at that meeting is to discuss how we can help each other by making introductions and offering referrals.
Networking Body Language and Etiquette
I always carry my business cards on the left side of my body in a pocket or card holder. This is so my right hand is free to shake someone’s hand without awkwardly juggling business cards, my purse, my coat, a plate of food or a cup. I limit my alcohol intake or just refrain. Whether you’re a social drinker, a nervous drinker or need a little alcohol to loosen you up, have a safe limit and stick to it. The event is business networking (vs. social gathering) and not the time or place to get a “buzz”, Get tipsy or sloshed. Also, watch your food choices. If the event has appetizers or a buffet it may be difficult to balance a plate of food, a drink and business cards. In addition, if you eat finger foods like wings, people may not want to shake your greasy hands. Lastly, beware of food choices that can give your breath a real “charge.” No one wants the hairs in their nostrils singed when you open your mouth to say hello.
The network event end game
When you leave each conversation with one of the people you’ve met and gotten to know, be sure the conversation ends with you taking an action step and following up with them. For example, if you asked someone about the last business book they read, when you close the conversation tell them you’re going to look up the book to see if its something you’d like to read as well. Now you’ve got a reason to touch base with them other than asking for business. You might leave the conversation asking for a great breakfast eatery. Imagine how great someone feels when they get a chance to be a resource for something? When you follow up with them after you try out the eatery, it will give you both something in common to talk about and perhaps a great place to get together for your first meeting when you connect to discuss doing business together or passing referrals.
I’ve built so many great relationships that have evolved into friendships, referral sources and clients by attending networking events as a “non-networker.”
April Simpkins, PHR, SHRM-CP is the president of HRS&S Consulting, LLC a business she started in her home and has now grown to a multi-state consulting firm with a staff and a roster of satisfied clients. Learn more about April on LinkedIn.