Networking events can be a great way to prospect and meet new contacts that have the potential to help you generate business. Whether that comes in the form of referrals or direct business, every professional can benefit from attending these types of events. The trouble is that many people are not ace networkers with the wit and charm to strike up memorable conversations with everyone they meet. I say this as someone who, truth be told, is naturally predisposed to being painfully introverted.
The fact is, many of us aren’t very good at networking, as we have to walk a fine line between being open and outward, yet not being too boastful or pushy. If this describes you, or if you’d like to create more lasting impressions at networking events, here are six tips to improve your networking chops.
And before we jump in, remember that having some type of useful, branded promotional item or interesting print piece as a giveaway at networking events is infinitely more memorable and will go a lot further than just a lousy old business card… just sayin’.
1 – Be Welcoming
I’ve found that it works well to say hello to people who appear to be on their own. Just reach out and ask them a bit about themselves. Often, the people I meet will be really interesting, but they’re not the outward types that would have introduced themselves to me. By making them comfortable and giving them someone to talk to, I can make a good connection.
2 – Don’t Worry, Be Happy
As simple and as basic as this sounds, it’s a golden tip for networking. Think about how it makes you feel when you see people that seems really happy or excited to see or meet you. That positive energy is contagious and a smile goes a long way in warming up an introduction and getting off to a good start. A smile creates a positive association that can spark a conversation that wouldn’t have happened if you came across as stand-offish or unfriendly.
3 – Be All Ears
The guy that was just introduced to you? He’s pretty interesting and definitely important. When first meeting people, ask them about themselves – that’s sure to generate some conversation (that’s easy for you) and believe it or not, people tend to find those who are good listeners as being more interesting. Make life easier and let them talk, but be sure to pay attention and have genuine interest, especially if you’re truly looking to create and develop new business relationships.
4 – Make Introductions
Regardless of your line of business, you can provide immediate value to the people you meet by connecting them with your existing contacts. See if they can be of assistance to your new contact. Being a “connector” has a lot of benefits as well, since the law of reciprocity is pretty universal. Help enough people and they’re going to want to help you back.
5 – Stand Out, Offer Value
Don’t just pitch to pitch in networking environments. If you do, you risk being like everyone else who no one remembers at networking events, just selling services or products to numb, skeptical and guarded prospects. Use what you’ve learned and focus on each person as an individual and see where you might be able to offer value, rather than just giving the canned script. Show that you’re interested in your prospects and solving problems.
6 – Follow Up with a LinkedIn Invite
LinkedIn is the perfect place to connect with the people you meet at networking functions. Just sending the invite is a nice reminder of who you were, so be sure to personalize the invitation message (don’t send that awful canned default message!) And, once connected, posting updates to LinkedIn periodically will allow you to stay top-of-mind with your new connections very easily.
While it takes some time and practice, networking is most definitely a skill that can be refined and improved. And given that business is built on relationships, it’s one that you should be interested in mastering.