There are many articles out there on how to grow your business via face-to-face and on-line networking. However, there are not many articles that go into the nitty-gritty of how you ‘work a room’ at a face-to-face networking event. Let’s face it, face-to-face networking can be very daunting. There are many simple ways that you can achieve more with your networking time.
Here are my top tips.
1. Do your homework in advance
By this I mean, ask your host for a guest list in advance. Identify 3-6 people that you want to have a conversation with. Do some research on the contacts you want to meet – what line of business are they in? What may be the particular business or personal challenges that they may be facing? On the day before you go to the networking event, have a quick look at some of the on-line news websites, and relevant trade journals, and formulate an opinion on some of the top stories.
2. Have the right kit with you
By this I mean, have a personalised badge already made up with your logo. There is no excuse, as a personalised badge will set you back under a tenner. Make sure you have lots of business cards with you. So you are never without your business card, keep a store of business cards in your wallet and the glove pocket of your car. Carry a small notepad and pen with you – no larger than the size of a cigarette packet. You can then use this to jot down things you have agreed to do for people you have met. When you get back from the event, make sure you transfer all your new business cards into a business card organiser. There is nothing worse than scrabbling around looking for a business card of someone you met six months ago.
3. Have your elevator pitch worked out
When you meet someone for the first time, they are going to inevitably ask you what you do. Have a 30 second paragraph worked out in advance which tells people ‘what value you bring to your customers & clients’, and your target market. At many networking events you may be required to do a 60 second spot or a 5 minute spot. Expand your 30 sec paragraph into a 60 second and 5 minute talk.
To make your time in the limelight more memorable for the people you are talking to, ask them a question which will help to connect what you do, with something they may need. For example, I use the ‘who thinks their business has the potential to grow quicker and faster?’ OR ‘who needs to get more productivity out of their employees?’
4. Think about your positioning
Make sure you are positioned so that you are facing the door (or early in the event, facing the table where people collect their badges). That way you can see who is arriving, without having to look away from the person you are talking to. In the 5 minutes before you will sit down for a meal, go into a seminar etc, aim to be talking to one of your targets for the evening. That way, you will end up building rapport with them through the ‘feature’ of the event.
5. Finding a person to talk to
We’ve all been there – we arrive at an event and everyone seems to be talking and you are feeling like billy-no-mates. Position yourself near to the drinks table, buffet or toilet – people will walk past you, and take the opportunity to introduce yourself. After all, everyone at a networking event is there to meet new people.
If you see someone standing on their own, make eye contact with them and smile at them. 99% of the time, they will be really glad to be ‘rescued’ and welcome a conversation with you.
If everyone seems to be standing or sitting around in groups, then look for groups of people who are standing in an open formation – i.e. group members who are standing looking into the room. Approach the group, and ask permission to join them.
6. Starting a conversation
An exceptionally common fear is not knowing what to say to someone you have just met. There are some really easy openers to a conversation:
“Hello, I’m ….
“How’s your day been?”
“How was your journey here today?’
“What have you got planned for the rest of the day?”
“Can I get you a drink?”
“Do you know many people here today?”
“What do you do?”
“What does your company do?”
7. Keeping a conversation going
Always turn up to a networking event as yourself. If you try and be someone that you are not, you will come across as shallow and insincere. Normally people love to talk about their business – so aim to get someone talking about their business, listen to what they are saying – and find ways of personally complimenting them on that they have achieved
8. Introduce other people as if they are very special or important
If someone asks to join your group, do take the time to introduce everyone in the group. When you are introducing a person, give some nugget about them, e.g. Alan is great at opening doors into potential clients
9. Find a reason to stay in touch
Now, Mr Smith from Fantastic Widgets may not be your target client. But he may know someone that is. If you want to stay in touch, then ask for their business card. But, it is more powerful to find a reason to stay in touch. For example, ‘have you met so-and-so? – I’ll send you their details’, ‘I was reading a great article – I will send you a copy’
10. Do ask for permission to circulate
It is very easy to get stuck talking with one person at a networking event. Look out for signs from the person you are talking to that they are looking to end the conversation – an easy giveaway is that their eyes will start to wander around the room. This is your cue to wrap up the conversation.
However, if you are left with a ‘cling-on’, then take the opportunity to introduce them to someone else and politely move on to a new conversation.