Networking events get you face-to-face (F2F) with potential customers, whether you’re the business owner or a sales person, so knowing how to work a room correctly is an essential skill in today’s high-tech business environment.
At a recent event, one of the participants was sitting at a table checking her E-mail. I commented to someone I was networking with that this type of event is about net working and you should avoid net sitting or net eating. The person in question realized her mistake, got up, and came over to the small group that I was with to make her introductions. She admitted she should have been up and meeting people instead of catching up on her E-mails, which can be done at any other time.
There once was a preferred E-mail response time that has given way to texting when it comes to urgent matters.
The people who are there to network with you and other participants are only in your presence for a limited time, so you need to take advantage of those moments.
In a traditional view of F2F networking, the idea is to meet, greet, and exchange business cards with as many participants as possible. The fallacy in that approach is you rarely spend any quality time getting to know the other people and you go home with a pile of business cards that usually winds up in another pile on your desk somewhere. If you are religious about following up on the business cards you receive, give yourself bonus points. If they stay in a pile for more than a week, deduct a whole slew of points and try a new approach.
This is a less new than an unused approach.
Go to networking events prepared. Yes, be prepared! You need business cards but if the people in attendance use the LinkedIn-related CardMunch app, they can take a picture of your card and give it back to you, as I did several times at the last event. It syncs up with LinkedIn and the person’s profile, so the card becomes another one in a pile if you keep it. You make take it back and plug it into Outlook or other management system. If you do, toss the card unless you want to wallpaper your office with business cards.
What I mean by being prepared, though, is to know which professionals are valuable for you to meet and network with at these events. If you get referrals from CPAs, for example, you want to meet any other certified public accountants who may be attending the event. If you get referrals, or can give referrals to a graphic artist, spend time with the ones you meet at the event. Find out if they have specialty areas or enjoy one aspect of being creative more than another form.
On the other hand, if you meet or get introduced to someone in a profession that has little value to you our your business, be courteous and make small talk but then look for a way to exit gracefully. Keep in mind they may know someone you might want to meet someday.
The most graceful exit strategy may be to simply say: “Excuse me, but I just saw someone I’ve been waiting to meet. Do any of you know (and point out the person)?” If they know them, they may feel comfortable introducing you – so make sure it is someone you truly want to meet. If they don’t know that person, they are all likely to respond, “Nope, sorry,” which gives you permission to bail. Or … simply excuse yourself.
Hang on to their cards, if you feel it may be worth giving them a call to prospect at some point.
With the people you do meet and get to spend a few minutes with, remember you are trying to make a connection. Ask them about what they do, and listen to what they say. Let them do the talking, but be prepared to give a brief overview of how you may be able to use their services, help them in some capacity, or refer business to them. The more you let them talk, the better you look as a conversationalist, and less pushy as a sales person.
Networking is about being visible with the people you want to establish credibility with, and then working to build the trust that will solidify a relationship. Be confident in yourself and in your ability to make small talk. Try to have some fun,too.