If you consider yourself a professional in any way, then networking is probably part of your life. With social media making the world smaller, networking has become an easier thing to do; we can connect with people around the world and become acquainted with people we have never even meet. And while networking and connecting with people online is important, its not going to replace actually meeting people face to face. Networking and having more face-to-face interactions is a goal of mine for 2018. But it’s scary for this introvert.
I’m usually awkward when jumping into a new group of people I do not know. Usually its the same story: I sit in my car and convince myself to just go in to the event and stay for 30 minutes. Just approach one or two people. One would think that for someone like me who has been in sales for almost 20 years and been to countless networking events (chamber, rotary, BNI, young professionals, etc) that they would be in my comfort zone. But its not. So I have to pump up my self-confidence and walk in. And things usually work out. But I wish that someone had given me a little advice about how to approach these without learning some lessons along the way.
So here are three tidbits for all of you to keep in mind when networking – in person.
1. Have the right attitude. A networking event is to make connections, not sell to people. I had gone to a networking event and a woman had brought in her bag of oils. She came prepared to sell to people that she was going to meet that night. I instantly avoided her. Yikes! Who wants to be sold at an event?!?! The attitude when going to a networking event is to make connections and see how you can help them. It’s really the most selfish and beneficial thing you can do for your business. By asking about others before talking about yourself, you help people like you more. And that like will eventually turn into trust. The old saying goes, “People don’t care about what you know (or do) until they know how much you care.” Find some commonality with them before explaining how you help people through your business. If your new friend is interested after hearing your “elevator speech” then you can set up a time to meet or talk later. You are there to meet people – not spend the whole time with one person.
2. And that brings us to the second tip: Move around the room. I avoid chairs to save my life when I’m networking. I finally convinced myself to get out of my car – I’m not going to ruin it by sitting down and appearing unapproachable. It’s best to stay standing and find a small group of people to join. This is kind of like speed dating: you want people to like you and remember you in under a few minutes. I like to make sure I have business cards (although connecting through FB messenger by scanning each other’s code is super easy too!). I will ask for one of their cards, and then ask if I can take a few notes about what we spoke about on the back. This makes it easier for me to remember what we spoke about, and great for them because they feel like someone really cares or is interested in what they do as well. If you really feel like you connected, tell them you will message them in the next couple of days to maybe grab a cup of coffee or lunch. I like to ask to connect with them on social media as well (either through LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram). That’s a great place to see how they are and get to know them as well.
A ninja move that I wish I had done earlier but will do moving forward is ask the host of the event for a list of all the attendees. They may or may not give it to you, but that is also a smart way to see if there was anyone in particular you missed having a conversation with.
3. And that leads into the last point: Have the right follow-up approach. Some of my best business partners, referral partners, and clients were ones that took some time to develop. And after the networking event is where the real work begins. Have a plan of how you want to keep your conversations going with people that resonated with you. I like to keep a separate friend list for new people I meet so that I can interact with them on a regular basis – otherwise it gets lost in my news feed. Who do you both know that could help your relationship? How can you help them with their business and connect them with prospects and referral partners? Give to get. You may never receive something from someone you’ve given something to, but you will be rewarded in another way. That’s just how the universe works.
I hope that what I’ve shared helps you moving forward. Find an event near you and attend one soon! The key is to be consistent with your efforts with networking. Some people will get you and some won’t; just keep on keeping on and know that you have things to offer others and by giving of yourself, will get something in return.
And if you are in the Minneapolis area, a new women’s Facebook group I helped form called Support Her Endeavors is hosting a Headshots and Happy Hour on February 1st from 6:00 – 8:00 in Maple Grove. Wine and a new headshot?! Count me in! Headshots should be updated every couple of years at the most and we have an amazing photographer and an even better price! Email or comment below with any questions. And happy networking!
(Family photo taken by Tracy Walsh Photography)