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.
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?