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I'm attending an important networking event next month and would like to get some tips on how I can make the most of it and come off like a real pro.
Dear Networking Newbie,
Here is advice from 12 ProfNet experts:
"The old adage 'It's not what you know, it's WHO you know," has never been truer," says Virginia Hemby-Grubb, a business communications professor at Middle Tennessee State University. "Building a network of contacts is important -- whether you're seeking a job or looking to build business."
To network, you need to show up to events and be "present," says Lloyd Princeton, managing member at iMatchDesigners and managing director at Design Management Company. By "present," he means don't talk with your colleagues or surf the Internet on your phone during an event. You should go with the intention of meeting someone that you don't know.
So remember to fish where the fish are, says Thor Harris, president at Percepture, Inc., a marketing and PR firm. Don't attend your own industry's networking events if you're looking for potential clients. With so many similar people at the same event looking for the same potential clients, you won't make any headway, he says.
For example, if you're a PR professional trying to expand business into the technology sector, don't attend a PR event. Instead, attend a technology conference.
"When attending a networking event or opportunity, individuals should take personal business cards (either hard copy or e-cards), says Hemby-Grubb. "People stand a far better chance of remembering individuals they meet when they have a business card for reference."
Also, bring a notepad and pen, says Muzafer Najfi, professional network marketer and co-author of "Wealth Matters Makeover Edition." During the event, take notes for future reference.
You don't need to bring your resume unless specifically requested, says Hemby-Grubb, but keep your resume up-to-date, just in case someone asks you to email it afterwards.
Determine the makeup and focus of the networking event ahead of time, so that you can prepare for the group that will be in attendance, says Billie Blair, president of Change Strategists, Inc., a management consultant company. Who would you like to meet? Acquire a guest list if possible and research the companies ahead of time.
Make a networking plan and carry it forward, agrees Adrian Miller, president of Adrian Miller Sales Training, a sales and customer service consulting agency. Make a goal for how many people you want to meet.
Having goals and objectives is the clear difference between socializing and effective business networking, says Holly Munter Koenig, vice president of Kellen Company, a business management, PR and marketing company.
So prepare what you will say when you meet someone, says Blair. What are the most important things to convey about yourself and your business? Consider how you will get introduced or how you will introduce yourself.
Work the Room
Go to the event early, says Miller. "By doing that, you are the 'center of influence,' and everyone gravitates towards you."
Don't arrive late, or you'll only meet the coat-check person, agrees Drew Stevens, president of Stevens Consulting Agency, and an expert in sales and business development.
"Don't make a beeline for the food and drink," says Jacqueline Whitmore, international etiquette expert, certified speaking professional and founder of The Protocol School, a business etiquette consulting firm. Eat a little something before you go to an event. "Scope out the crowd first and the goodies second," she says. Don't talk with your mouth full, and carry your glass in your left hand, so you can shake with your right.
Also, if there's an open bar at the event, remember that it's not an open invitation to drink yourself into oblivion, Whitmore continues. "Indulging in too much alcohol could have unfavorable repercussions if you're not careful. To maintain your professionalism, limit your alcohol intake to one or two drinks."
Avoid talking with only those you know well. Circulate, and introduce yourself and your guest to others, says Whitmore.
But don't bring a guest to an event unless the invitation made it clear that guests are welcome, says Whitmore. It's not an open house, so plans have been based on a specific number of attendees.
A good place to meet and greet, and see and be seen, is near the entrance, says Whitmore.
"As far as introductions go, you should smile, make eye contact, extend your hand and introduce yourself," says Hemby-Grubb. "Women, especially, should make the first handshake contact, as men may be hesitant in some cases to extend a hand -- thinking mistakenly that they should not do so."
Nervousness is nothing to be ashamed of, says Jill Spiegel, author and founder of Goal Getters, a communications consulting firm. "It means you care," she says. So go ahead and approach someone and introduce yourself. "Your genuineness and courage will create an instant connection."
"When you first learn someone's name, think of someone you know or someone well-known with the same name. Picture that familiar face next to this new face," says Spiegel. "This easy visualization locks names in your mind."
If you can't remember someone's name, don't fret, says Whitmore. "Simply say: 'I'm sorry, it's been one of those days and I've gone blank. Please tell me your name.'"
Likewise, if you have a name that is difficult to pronounce or spell, do something when you say your name so people will remember you when you say hello, says Susan Blond, president at Susan Blond, Inc., an entertainment and lifestyle publicity agency.
If you're the less famous person, don't remind the person who forgot you that you remember them, unless you want to appeal to their ego, says Blond.
When introducing two friends, mention what they have in common to get the conversation started, Blond continues. You don't even have to remember their names to do this!
And remember, people often make the mistake of wanting to hand out their business card to everyone they meet, says Shari Alexander, founder and president of Presenting Matters, a business presentation consulting firm. "Instead, your focus should be on getting the business card from every person you talk to. That way, the power and ability to follow up with them is in your hands."
"Do your best to write on each business card where you met the person, along with any other details about them and your conversation," Alexander continues. "You will meet many people and it will be hard to keep them all straight days after the event. This will help jog your memory."
Make Real Connections
"To establish a rapport with someone, you should begin the conversation with small talk because everyone can participate in the conversation, since it involves general information or topics," says Hemby-Grubb.
For example, Blair reads up on world events prior to a networking event. After sensing something about the person he's talking to, he will make remarks on a current topic he thinks the person will find interesting.
This will allow you to appear knowledgeable, and lets the other person affiliate you to a greater degree with specific thoughts and views, he says. "In other words, you begin to establish a relationship."
People generally like to talk about themselves, so ask questions, says Hemby-Grubb. The more you encourage them to talk, the better. Choose thoughtful questions, ask them slowly and give the individual time to talk, she says.
"When you are passionately curious about other people, you make them feel interesting, special and connected to you," says Spiegel.
To start engaging conversations, Najfi recommends following F.O.R.M.:
- Family: "Tell me about your family."
- Occupation: "What do you do for a living?"
- Recreation: "What do you do for fun?"
- Motivation: "What do you like most, and what do you like least?"
During your conversations, if someone offers you advice, make them feel helpful, says Spiegel. "We all encounter people who give us advice that we didn't ask for or agree with. If we respond by explaining why their suggestion won't work, we disconnect and create tension." So respond with appreciation and diplomacy.
Also, help people who brag feel successful, says Spiegel. Instead of feeling the need to compete with them, celebrate with them. It will instantly create a warm connection.
When people criticize, we tend to label them as negative, Spiegel continues. But once we understand where their negativity comes from, we can connect with them through questions and empathy. By asking them questions about what they are unhappy with, you'll validate them. "When people who criticize feel understood and appreciated, they become receptive and supportive."
Furthermore, don't gossip at events, as it creates mistrust, she says. Others will wonder: "What will this person say about me?" If you hear gossip from someone else, change the direction of the conversation.
At some point in the conversation, the individual with whom you are speaking will want to learn more about you, says Hemby Grubb.
"Wait until they ask you about your business," says Miller. If they don't, they're not worth your time.
When someone asks you a question, respond with passion and purpose, and don't give a generic answer, says Spiegel.
Usually people answer "What do you do for a living?" with a simple description, like "I'm a designer." But that kind of response doesn't invite a meaningful connection, she says. Instead, say something like:
I own a design company called Patterns. I love to brighten homes with colors and textures. I also enjoy playing tennis.
Sharing your interests will help you connect with the individual on more topics, she says.
But don't speak for too long or dominate the conversation, reminds Hemby-Grubb. "Your goal is to learn as much as possible about the individual."
"Be alert to the interest level generated by the conversation," says Blair. Timing is an important component of networking, as your objective is to meet more people and spread the word of your company more broadly. "When there is no obvious interest, it's time to move on and find someone else with whom to converse."
When it's time to end the conversation, exit with "compliment, feedback, compliment," says Spiegel. Say something like: "It's been so much fun talking with you. I'm going to go check out the band. Your smile has given me a lift!" Surrounding your exit statement with two compliments keeps your connection lasting.
When you return home or to the office after this networking event, send a message or leave a voicemail message telling the individual how much you enjoyed meeting him or her, says Hemby-Grubb. Repeat something from the conversation to remind the individual of some commonalities. Be sincere, but not sappy.
Follow up immediately, Miller agrees. "Time counts."
Generic follow-up emails are boring and easily ignored, says Alexander. "Personalizing every follow-up email may take more time, but it yields higher replies." He suggests writing something like this:
It was great meeting you at (insert event here)! I really enjoyed talking with you about (insert personalized information referring to previous conversation here). I definitely want to keep in touch to learn more about you and your business. Do you have any time for a casual phone chat in the next couple of weeks? Here are my upcoming available times: X, Y, Z. Looking forward to talking again!
Also, send a thank-you note to key persons who helped organize the event and to those who made the event possible, says Whitmore. "Saying thank you is not only cordial behavior, but will make you stand out from those who don't express their gratitude."
"To build and maintain a personal network, you have to be willing to spend the necessary time to remain connected with the members of your network. Merely making an initial contact and moving forward does not ensure continuity of your network," says Hemby-Grubb.
Join and participate in organizations where you would come into contact with this individual; send occasional email messages to say hello, seek advice, etc.; join LinkedIn and see if the individual is also a member, and if so, make a connection, says Hemby-Grubb.
Set a reminder to check in with them again, like every six months, just to stay on track, suggests Princeton.
Networking works like gardening, says Miller. "Plant seeds, and perhaps you can get results in a few weeks, months, years."
And remember that most people genuinely want to help, but are often too busy to stop and understand how they can help, says Princeton. You must lead them, and most importantly, send something their way first.