Most folks know that networking is a key to success. We want and need to know people with whom we do business, and most of us enjoy meeting new people for our social circle as well. No “networking” event is, in and of itself, worthwhile.
It’s what happens afterward that makes the difference.
Networking isn’t about getting business on the spot, it’s about developing relationships that will lead to business, directly or indirectly, down the road. Networking almost always requires the long-term approach.
But how do you begin? Joining a “networking group” can be an intimidating step, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are some basics to get you started.
Make time and do it. “Someday” and “later” have a way of never happening.
Be prepared with something to say. Know what the big news story is, the key sports results, and have a positive or thoughtful comment.
Be prepared to introduce yourself in 15-20 seconds. Without stumbling. This is usually called the “elevator speech.” Make it interesting. If it’s boring to say, it’s boring to hear.
Carry business cards and have them easily accessible…
… But don’t offer indiscriminately them at the beginning of a conversation! It’s far better to chat for a while, to know someone about the person, and then to ask for his or her business card. What if, horror of horrors, they don’t reciprocate and ask for yours? Not a problem. Send them one when you follow up after the event.
When someone offers you a business card, look at it before you put it away. A card is our tangible persona. Notice it, accord it due respect, and then carefully put it away.
Pay attention to the conversation. Don’t be one of the “power networkers” always looking over the shoulder of your conversational companion, looking for someone more interesting. Listen. Really listen. When your companion is talking, that’s your signal to listen to what they’re saying, not to be composing your witty rejoinder. Listening is the antidote for nervousness, especially for introverts, because your entire focus is on the speaker – and his focus is on himself, too!
Think about how you can help the person you’re talking with. Make a contact, offer a lead, or just ask how you might recognize a terrific potential client/customer for her. Don’t assume someone you’re talking to can’t help you. A conversation may not lead directly to business, but you have no idea who that person may know or where they’ll end up next.
Set your intentions before you go (i.e., I will leave with 3 business cards of people I plan to contact again). And aim for quality over quantity.
Follow up afterward.
If you use these tactics, your first networking meeting will be a successful and, perhaps, even an enjoyable event that will encourage you to keep coming back.
by M Peal