If you hate business networking events because you’re afraid of getting stuck with the resident wallflower, or you’re afraid you ARE the resident wallflower, it’s time to set yourself free. Forget stereotypes of people swapping business cards and talking AT one another. In fact, why not drop the NETWORKING word altogether?
How would you like to develop business relationships instead? It sounds the same thing, but it all depends on your mind set.
According to Andy Bounds (the guru of business networking), you require two essential skills:
- Ability to speak
- Good Manners
Tick both these boxes, and you are qualified to network.
Your approach to the event before you arrive determines your success
- What’s your objective?
- Learn something?
- Get to know a specific individual? (i.e. you know the name)
- Establish relationships with a category of person? (e.g. a particular profession)
- Without a clear objective, there’s a good chance you’ll end up aimless and frustrated.
- Get there early
- Your odds of meeting the right people are much greater. You may be able to get the attendance list or ask the organiser to facilitate your ideal introduction. Other early arrivals might know the person you’d like to meet.
Your behaviour during the event confirms your mind set
- Who do I approach?
Go up to someone standing alone (they’ll be delighted), or open groups. Don’t project your inner nervousness onto other people’s outward calm – underneath they’re probably just as uncomfortable as you.
- What to say?
Start with “Hello, may I join you?” Introduce yourself. When the other person gives their name, ask questions about their business and why they’re attending the event. Most people will ask you similar questions in return. Don’t be afraid to use small talk – it’s oil in the social engine.
- What to say next
Avoid labelling yourself by profession or title, e.g. “I sell CRM systems”. (The person you’re talking to may be unable to spell CRM, let alone know what it is.) Instead, find a way of describing yourself that benefits other people. (In jargon, that’s your elevator pitch.) “I ensure companies increase sales and prepare themselves for future growth.” “How do you do that?” is your hoped-for reply.
- It’s all about THEM
Ask questions and listen to the answers. It pays off in two ways. Firstly, you’ll understand what they do and the challenges they face. Secondly, you can use that information as the basis for later follow-up.
This is where business cards come in. The person you’re speaking to may not be a potential customer today, but they may be a potential referrer. You start to build a relationship by engaging with them and possibly helping them in some way: solve a problem, recommend a supplier, forward a relevant article etc. Once you have a sensible reason for follow-up, then you need contact details.
So how do I get away to meet the person I’m really looking for?
OK, you’ve spent 10 minutes with Moaning Mary, and you really want to meet Dynamic Dave. How do you make a break for freedom? Remember your good manners, and the questions you asked at the beginning? Here’s part of the payoff. You already know why they’re at the event and who they’re looking to meet.
There’s a couple of ways to politely escape. If you’re feeling guilty about abandoning Mary altogether, why not bring her along with you? “Let’s go over and join that group. We may find an architect to answer your question.” Having safely deposited Mary, you can then circulate elsewhere. Alternatively, “It’s been really nice talking to you. I’m going to mingle a bit myself now, and if I meet that architect you were looking for, I’ll come and find you.”
(A word of caution, I used to think myself very clever using an urgent need for the bathroom as a fool-proof way of extracting myself, until I realised everyone else was using the same excuse.)
- Wear a legible name badge on your right lapel (you shake hands with your right hand)
- Don’t stand huddled with colleagues – circulate
- Avoid alcohol (rule of thumb – at least 2 drinks less than everyone else)
- Make the conversation about the other person
- Facilitate introductions
- STOP SELLING
If you use these guidelines and follow-up on your promises, you will become a powerful networker. Those dreaded events will become enjoyable opportunities to meet new people and learn new things. Go on, jump in.