How to Be a Networking Superhero

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To prospect for new business, and to learn from others, I spend a lot of time at networking events, many events which are held where I office at the Hudson Business Lounge in downtown Milwaukee. And I have been networking for as long as I can remember, and while it now comes very naturally for me, others aren’t as skilled in networking. And while there is no perfect formula to connect with people, there are things you can learn that will make you a better networker.

networking superheroBe a Networking Super Hero

Before the event:

Prepare yourself with a few questions about the event – and your answers – Networking starts before the event starts. It starts at home, in your office, or in the coffee shop. Where ever you use your computer, use it for researching the event. What is the history of the event? Of the location? Of the hostess? Of the attendees? Do your homework and figure out some great questions to ask other people – and prepare your answers to these questions. Why prepare the answers? Because most people will spin the questions you ask back on you to keep the conversation going. Just don’t use all the questions and answers in 1 conversation however, or the only person you’ll connect to is the waiter offering the hors d’oeuvres.

At the event:

Show up to the event early - I used to show up early and offer to help, but I realized that just stressed out the host. Instead, I now show up as the event is starting and it’s much more effective. I get to get a drink first, get my name tag first, and then I can pick a good spot to stand so I can watch people walk in the door.  This helps me feel comfortable and more in control of the event.

Focus on making a few real connections where you have things in common – At many networking events, I watch as some people deal business cards like they’re playing poker. They flit from group to  group, grabbing others’ business cards and sharing theirs. And those people seldom make real connections. I focus instead on making a few real connections where I find common ground, and I invest my time in getting relatively deep at the event. I say relatively deep, because many want to connect with lots of people, and that’s fine by me. I go deep enough until I can find at least 2 things in common – or to determine we have nothing in common.

Talk personal stuff not work stuff – A lot of people try to network with people who do exactly what they do and how they do it. That’s fine, but most people’s passions lie OUTSIDE of work stuff. So I make it a point to talk about no work, and instead learn as much personally as I can. That doesn’t mean I don’t find out what they do for a living. Rather, I find out WHY they do what they do, HOW they got into it, WHERE their office building is located, WHO they work with that they enjoy working and WHEN did they start doing what they do, in addition to lots of other personal stuff like their family, hobbies, what they read, and more. Go beyond work and get personal.

Schedule follow up meetings – Whenever possible, I try to get on the most interesting folks’ calendars at the event, or at the least, to commit to scheduling an in person meeting the next day. The sooner you can get reconnected, the  better you can get truly connected and become a networking superhero.

After the meeting:

Follow-up with a brief e-mail with an insight shared during the event (and confirm or make your appointment) – The next morning (or even the night of the event) follow-up with a brief e-mail of no more than 5 sentences, calling back to something shared during the event, and either confirm the coffee date (30 minute max) or offering 3 dates/times in the next 10 days that work for you to have coffee. The keys here are the timeliness of the message, the 30 minute time frame, and offering several choices of times.

Connect on Linkedin and Twitter – After you’ve sent the follow-up e-mail, ask for a connection on LinkedIn. Be sure to personalize the connection with a reminder about the previous event, and share how you’d love to help them with their business by introducing them to any person in your network. Then do it if they accept the invitation and ask.

And if they’re a Twitter person, follow them on Twitter and mention them in your Twitter stream by sharing an interesting article they’ve shared or (better) an article they wrote or (best) an article they were mentioned in. A quick look at their Twitter stream or a Google search for their name should turn something up you can share.

Just don’t do one in the morning – and one in the afternoon.

Find one way to help the other person – At your 30 minute coffee meeting, find out what the needs of your new friend are – and then deliver on it. If your contact needs to meet someone in your network, connect them to that person. If they need to know how to do something, look for an article that will help them. If they have a need for a plumber, share your plumber or do some research to find one someone in your network uses and loves. The sooner you can help, the better.

Keep in touch when you can add value – If this is a connection worth keeping, stay in front of the person every 4-6 weeks with an article that will help their business and a quick note of 3 or 4 sentences. Make it personal, make it relevant, and make sure you include your signature.

OK, so these tips aren’t hard to execute. And sure, they won’t make you a networking super hero overnight. But if you keep working at it, you’ll be a way more successful networker than your peers, and those you’re flying over!

YOUR TURN: What’s YOUR best networking tip?

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Phil Gerbyshak
Phil Gerbyshak is the CEO of SocialMediaCoach.com, and he works with people who want to leverage social media into real life connections. He has been working in the social media space since 2005, with a focus on financial advisors, financial planners and others in the financial services industry. Phil has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Financial Times, Investor's Business Daily and many other publications online and offline and is frequently interviewed by those who want to connect more deeply with their customers in meaningful ways.
Phil Gerbyshak

@philgerb

Want to integrate social media into your sales process? Call/text me at 414-640-7445 any time. #Sales #LinkedIn #Networking #Brewers
@trishofthetrade awesome!!! - 2 hours ago
Phil Gerbyshak
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  1. ideagirlmedia says:

    Phil,

    You are an excellent networker! I appreciate a few new insights you've shared…and a few reminders.

    You point out that people like to network with those in positions similar to themselves. But if you step outside that box, as you suggest, I think the chances you'll connect with referrals or potential clients is actually greater!

    My best tip? Care about the *person* you're talking to – Not just the professional. And then keep them on your list of those to stay in touch with long-term. Don't forget to check in now and then.

    Great post!

    ~Keri

    • Thanks Keri! I think caring is the best way to network. If we focus on what's in it for THEM, we'll be a more effective networker, and a better contributor to the world we live in.

  2. I found that people tend to forget the last part – follow up! When Jenny Schrank and I talk to students and graduates about ways to grow a professional career, we always emphasize the follow up aspect. It's so important to stay on your new connection's mind, and to follow up properly. I love hand writing my Aga branded note cards. A personal message is so powerful.

  3. This article should be put on a memory stick and handed out at the door of every networking event.

    I've been to so many where I feel I've walked through a time portal – business card dealing, people looking over your shoulder for better prospects, and a lot of…"So what do you do?"

    Thanks, Phil.

    • Ray – I'd love to see that happen. :)

      And yes, so many people think they are Richard Simmons – with the deal a meal business card model. Very NOT effective!

  4. Gettysburg Gerry says:

    I disagree Ray Hiltz. This article should be emailed and be required reading before the event…..ha ha
    Seriously, this is one of those articles that I will print out and check out for a reminder as I register for an event. Great job Phil
    Couple of things that really resonated with me, 1.Focus on making a few real connections where you have things in common, and 2. Talk personal stuff not work stuff. Love that. I also agree that most people fail in that they never connect again, you have to follow up…Nicely done Sir

    • Awesome Gerry! You can start by e-mailing it before the next event you host. I won't mind. :)

      So nice some of this resonated with you. Sounds like you know how to network well. Did I miss anything?

  5. Good tips Phil. I especially like the point about talking personal stuff and not work while at the event. It will make it easier to find common interests and make the connection more valuable.

  6. Mallie Hart says:

    Here's a key one I've learned as I go to more and more events. Stay standing and mobile. If you're sitting at a table it looks like you're involved in a conversation – even if you're really not, and you can miss out on opportunities. Sure, sit down to eat, especially if they're serving something messy (who decided it's cool to serve wings at these events – YIKES). Then get up and get mingling!

    • Great point Mallie. Standing up does make you much more approachable.

      And why DO they serve those messy foods? To let caterers show off? I sure don't know!

  7. "Talk personal stuff not work stuff" – people forget that networking events are about building engagement the same as social media. You've put words to what I've been doing and feeling about networking events all along. Thanks, Phil.. nice work.

    • Thanks Jeff. I agree – folks often forget about the purpose. Networking is the START of a relationship, not the CLOSE. Focus on a strong beginning, and when the time is right, a good ending just might happen.

  8. Right on the money! I found the hardest is to follow up and actually meet them after the networking event. Great points.

    • Thanks Charise. Why is that the hard part for you? Do you ask for it at the time, and let them know you'll only take 30 minutes of their time, and then find out what they need and deliver the goods? Do that a few times, and I'd bet you get a lot more coffee meetings. :)

  9. Phil!

    Great tips bud! Couldn’t have come at a better time! I’m going to share this article with my clients who just asked me about further tips on networking.

    You are the master of connecting and your article truly demonstrates your knowledge of people and selling your self.

    Xoxo

  10. Great tips Phil. I'd like to add one more reason to get there early. By getting there early, you can often get look at the list (or view the preprinted nametags) of the other attendees to target who you'd like to chat with. But please don't stalk and pounce as soon as they arrive.

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