14 Networking Tips
Turn your contacts into connections
| HOW TO NETWORK WITH PANACHE & FLAIR
A few years’ ago the thought of attending a networking event would bring me out in hives. However, I knew that as much as I didn’t want to network, it was an essential aspect of doing business.
As the saying goes:
it doesn’t matter who you know, it’s who knows you that counts”
The difference is subtle but oh-so-powerful.
So. I had to get over myself. I had to learn how to network. I read lots of books and blog articles.
1980s-style networking: have an objective
Most of what I read said it was essential to attend a networking event with an objective in mind. To have a goal for the number of business cards you wanted to have received.
This didn’t quite feel right to me because it was a bit like treating people as a number.
I played this game of collecting business cards for a little while. However, the results I was getting weren’t that impressive. And looking back, it’s not really surprising.
People want to connect with people – not someone who’s just out to get their business card so they can feel good about having achieved their x-number of business cards target.
I quit their way and started doing it my way
I changed my approach to attending networking events. I threw out all the goal-setting / networking-objective stuff I’d read about and started to do it my way.
The People Factor
Once upon a time I worked in an inbound call centre. I loved being able to help my callers. As it turned out, my desire to help meant I was a top performing rep. I was always in the top 3 and most of the time #1.
However, ironically, I operated contrary to company policy of short call duration x high volume calls.
I had one of the longest talk times in the company and the lowest turnover of callers each day.
My entire approach was to find out what each customer’s problem was and then find the best solution for them. Taking this approach worked!
This is the approach I have today. I’m always cognisant that it’s the quality of the conversations I have when I’m at networking events that are important.
Not whether I swapped a record number of business cards.
The following are 14 of the tips that form part of my Networking SOPs (standard operating procedures).
Having this approach works for me. I’m sure it will work for you too
NETWORKING TIP #1
| plan ahead and be prepared
This means thinking about the types of people you might be networking with. Is it an industry event or, say, a Chamber of Commerce event?
This will influence the type of professionals you’ll be rubbing shoulders with.
Think ahead to the types of questions, problems, scenarios they might face and how you might be able to help.
NETWORKING TIP #2
| know your elevator pitch
The elevator pitch is what’s commonly referred to when someone asks “what do you do…?”
In an ideal world your elevator pitch will explain in a plain simple language what you do. It will also succinctly identify your target market such that someone will think either “I can relate to that!” or “I know someone who could do with this help”.
I recommend having a couple of elevator pitches. A mere 15 second one and one a bit more elaborate (but still shorter than 30 seconds).
The average person speaks at around 120-150 words per minute. This means that a 15 second elevator pitch will be somewhere between 30-40 words long. Obviously, a 30 second intro will be in the region of 60-75 words long.
You need to know how you are going to answer the “what do you do?” question in a way that will naturally elicit the request for more information.
NETWORKING TIP #3
| business cards: yours & theirs
I have a system when it comes to business cards and networking. I have ‘in’ and an ‘out’ “files”.
Depending on what I’m wearing this could be two pockets. If I don’t have two pockets then I’ll use one pocket and my handbag.
Men: you’ve got it covered. Your trousers already have two pockets.
Because I keep my own business cards and the cards I’ve been given separate (my in/out filing system), it means I’m never going to have to thumb through a stash of someone else’s cards looking for one of mine.
The object of the networking game is to present yourself in the best professional light. Someone who’s fumbling doesn’t necessarily instill confidence.
And talking of business cards: make sure yours are always sharp and tidy. The last thing you want to give out is tatty, dog-eared, scuffed business cards!
NETWORKING TIP #4
| what to wear
This also doubles under Tip #1 about being prepared.
Your attire at networking events needs to be professional for the environment.
Obviously, your clothing needs to be clean and presentable and appropriate for your profession.
As per Tip #3 regarding having a business card system, thinking ahead to what you’re going to wear to make ‘filing’ business cards easier is important.
Keep in mind you never get a second chance to make a first impression. It’s therefore important to always present yourself in the most favourable and powerful best light possible.
Check for loose threads, popped buttons, clean (unstained) ties, polished shoes, unscuffed heels, appropriate clothing.
NETWORKING TIP #5
| eating & drinking
I swear there are some die-hards who go to networking events purely for the free food and drink.
My networking tip is that you leave the food alone and you limit your alcohol intake to just one glass (if you feel you absolutely must drink alcohol at a networking event).
If you regard networking as an extension of your workday and you wouldn’t drink alcohol at your desk then ask yourself why you find it permissible to drink away from your work desk? [just asking]
The reason I recommend not eating is because you can bet your very last dollar that as soon as you pick up something sticky, greasy or awkward to eat, someone you don’t know will come up and want to shake your hand.
Or as soon as you’ve bitten into a particularly awkward something someone will ask you a question. Then you have to wave a little bit madly at the mouthful of food you have while you wait to be able to speak without embarrassing yourself or the other person.
Where is the power in either of those two scenarios?
Another reason for not eating is that it means you no longer have the function of that hand.
It’s awkward to shake hands and swap business cards.
How many times have you either had to ask someone to hold something for you (a glass or plate) or has someone asked the same of you, while wiping hands on a napkin or rummaging around for business cards?
Where is the power in that?
Alcohol. We all know the effects of alcohol. Add alcohol to an empty stomach, at the end of a long day when you’re tired, etc and the effects are multiplied and compounded. Being under the influence is not a good professional look.
Remember: you want to present a powerful, professional and competent image.
NETWORKING TIP #6
| what to say and when to say it
I’ve already talked about the importance of having your elevator pitch down pat. Your introductory 15-30 seconds or so in response to the “what do you do?” standard networking question.
The other knack of keeping a conversation going is to ask open ended questions. These are the W questions (+ one H question):
It’s very difficult to answer an open-ended question with a straight yes or no. [Without appearing rude, that is, but then some people have absolutely no manners!]
“what brings you here today…?”
“tell me about what you do – what’s its back-story…?”
“tell me about your XYZ – how is it different to other XYZs on the market…?”
“how long have you been working at ABC – what attracted you to the industry in the first place…?”
Create a list of your own open-ended questions that you feel comfortable with asking. Spend some time practising these questions – out loud – to yourself so that when the time comes to ask them in real life, they’re natural.
For me, the worst part of any networking event is taking that first step to say “hi” … to reach out and introduce yourself first…
Remember: the goal is to be powerfully in control …
Waiting on the sidelines doesn’t create the illusion (internally or perceptually by others) of being powerfully in control… it looks like you’re wimping out!
So. Take the bull by the horns and go up to someone and say “hi”. First.
Waiting for others to come to you puts you at the disadvantage.
As the advertisement says: just do it!
NETWORKING TIP #7
| what to look for & why
Coupled with tip #6 is what to look for when taking the first step to say “hi”.
If you’re shy, then look for other shy people. They’ll be the ones spending a long time at the buffet table. Or at the bar organising their drink. Or standing on the sidelines looking a bit lost.
Taking the first step and introducing yourself to someone who’s exhibiting any of these signs will make you a lifelong friend! [Okay – so that’s a bit of an exaggeration but they will be profoundly grateful that you saved them from a fate worse than death: having to do what you’ve just done (first intro) or leaving them looking like a lost sheep on the sidelines].
Can you see how powerful taking that first step can be?
If there are no lost sheep standing around the edges then you’ve got three choices:
- become a lost sheep so someone can rescue you
- wimp out and go home?
but where’s the power in that?
- gate crash a conversation
How to gate crash a conversation
I look for a twosome (or threesome if there aren’t any twos). Find two people who look like they don’t know each other very well (body language will shout at you if you’re prepared to listen).
Wait for a lull in the conversation and then [I] say:
Hi – I realise I’m gatecrashing here … but would like to say “hi” – so “hi – I’m Julie South of Get Googlin”
While I’m saying this I’m extending my hand (to the person who doesn’t have their hands or mouth full with plates, glasses, food, etc).
This will usually elicit the standard “Hi, I’m blah-blah. How are you?”
From this point you can start the conversation with the open-ended questions in tip #6.
NETWORKING TIP #8
| when to make the first move
In case you hadn’t gathered, the object of the game is for you to feel powerful and in control.
This means that (most of the time) the onus is on you to make the first move.
To step into your growth zone (ie, out of your comfort zone) and go up to someone you don’t know and say “Hi”. First!
Refer to tips #6 and #7 again on how to do this.
Of course, you may also find yourself wanting to exit a conversation and not knowing how to do this.
First you need to wait for the other person to take a breath in their monologue. Then you say something like:
It’s been lovely chatting with you. Because we’re at a networking event I would like to meet a couple of other people I don’t know so if you’ll excuse me I’m going to disappear now. Thank you for your time”
Or similar words that work for you. This also comes under the heading of being prepared (tip #1).
You need to have some prepared scripts that you can use from time to time for situations where you need to extract yourself.
As per tip #7, practice (by talking out loud to yourself) until you feel 100% comfortable with your choice of words so that you sound natural and relaxed.
Remember: powerful and in control.
NETWORKING TIP #9
| the best time to arrive and why
Plan to arrive at kickoff. Because this is when some of the best networking is done.
I’m not sure why the best networking is done right at the beginning. Maybe it’s because people have the mindset that the “official” networking hasn’t started? Maybe the conversations are more person-to-person as opposed to (say) business-to-business…?
I’ve no idea! I just know that the best networking is achieved by showing up early.
The other reason for showing up early is because it means you’re not going to walk into a room full of strangers who (appear to) know each other.
By arriving early you can also be part of the unofficial meet and greet welcoming committee. If you’re especially shy this is a great way to network.
Remember: powerfully in control.
NETWORKING TIP #10
| the floors’em best question ever to ask at a networking event
To repeat myself: your success depends on the number of people who know you… and people are more likely to remember you if you are memorable. Memorable in a good way!
The fast-track to being memorable is to genuinely help someone.
This question will make a crazy amount of massive difference to your networking success if you implement as part of your networking MO (modus operandi).
All you have to do is ask how you can help someone!
Your help will look something like this:
I’d like to be able to help you and although I’m not in the market for what you’re selling right now I might know someone who is. So tell me, what would your typical client look like…?”
what sort of problems should I be listening for when I’m talking with people? What problems do you typically solve for your clients?”
when I’m out and about what sort of words or phrases should I be listening out for that tell me that person needs to talk to you…?”
I’d like to be able to help you – is there anyone you would like to be introduced to whom I might know…?
That is the first half of your ‘wows them’ package. The second half is that you need to follow through and deliver.
If you think about all the people you know who know people who know people you will be able to connect your new networking acquaintance with someone of interest to them. Either directly or indirectly.
It’s doing something like this that will give you Networking Mojo!
Powerfully in control.
NETWORKING TIP #11
| how to keep in touch after the networking event
Some of the most common questions I’m asked are
… so what do I say next …?”
how do I keep in touch without being salesy or pushy?
… so I attend this networking event. But then what…??”
Provided you’ve asked the all important floors’em question (tip #10) you will always have valid and meaningful reasons to keep in touch with people you meet at networking events.
When I’m following up with someone I’ve met at a networking event (by email) I usually head up the email with something like “here’s the information I promised at ABC Networking Event” in the subject line.
This serves two purposes:
- Even though they might not know my email address or perhaps even recognise my name, the mere mention of the networking event in the subject line shows the email is valid and genuine (read: not spam);
- It creates a bit of curiosity to help ensure the email will get opened.
So that is how you follow up without being salesy or pushy. You need to ensure that networking tip #10 is part of your networking SOPs (standard operating procedures).
Remember: powerfully in control.
NETWORKING TIP #12
| going to a networking event with a friend
I have no problems with you arriving at a networking event with a friend or acquaintance (read: someone you know).
However, I do have a problem if you spend your time at the networking event talking to that person.
My recommendation is that you agree to go your own separate ways as soon as you step through the door of the event.
If you are shy or introvert I understand this sounds hard and scary. But provided you follow through on all the previous tips I’ve outlined here, believe me, you’ll have far more valuable (professionally profitable) conversations without your friend.
Yes! I know it’s hard!
Yes! I know it sounds scary (terrifying even)!
But remember: you want to be powerful and in control. [You won’t be powerful or in control if you take the safe route of following your friend around and/or having them hold your hand]
What do you want to be? You want to be powerfully in control!
NETWORKING TIP #13
| what to do immediately after the event
What you do immediately after a networking event will make the biggest impact on your success down the track (think: >6 months).
Here’s what I do – I make notes:
- of the conversations I had with each person
- memorable topics we discussed
- identifying features of the person
- their pain points
- their ideal client
- their answer to my floors’em question
- what I promised to do
And then I file these with all the contact details of my new networking acquaintance.
However you file is up to you: paper or digital.
What is important is that you take the time to do this immediately after each event. I can pretty much guarantee that if you tell yourself you’ll do it tomorrow (or whenever but not immediately after) you won’t. OR the quality of the information you track won’t be as comprehensive as immediately after.
Remember: you want to be powerfully in control!
NETWORKING TIP #14
| how to turn contacts into connections after the event
Contacts are elevated to the lofty status of connections because you’ve gone out of your way to keep in touch with them. In a meaningful way.
If you intend to keep in touch with a new acquaintance by simply adding them to your newsletter database and emailing them your global enewsletter you first need to ask their permission to do this.
The Unsolicited Electronic Messages Act (NZ) states that, in the event of a dispute, the sender of the message must be able to categorically prove they had the sender’s permission to email (or fax) them.
The onus falls on the sender to prove they had the right, not the recipient to prove they didn’t give it.
Therefore just having someone’s business card with their email address does not categorically prove they gave you permission.
So. Ask whether they would like to receive your newsletter (sell them the benefits of receiving it backed up by the conversation you’ve just had with them).
Next: reach out and connect with them on LinkedIn. In your connection request email remind them of where you met. This is especially important if your new acquaintance is a LinkedIn member who rarely checks their LinkedIn email!
When you stumble across something (eg, information, an article, etc) or someone in the future you think would be beneficial to pass onto your new acquaintance, or for them to meet, do so.
Remember: powerful and in control.
These are the 14 top networking tips. Including these as part of your networking MO will give you Networking Mojo.
What to do next
- Practice your elevator / introduction (short and a little longer).
- Create some open ended questions you feel comfortable asking.
- Identify a couple of garments with pockets in your wardrobe that will be suitable for networking (filing system: in/out).
- Make sure you have a supply of smart-looking (non dog-eared) business cards always on you.
- Always have a protein bar handy (or whatever works for you) so you won’t be tempted to eat at a networking event.
- Create your own “exit strategy one-liners” so you can keep working the room.
- Learn your floors’em question. Use words you feel comfortable with.
- Have a fail-safe keep-in-touch question (refer tip #10).
- Update your LinkedIn profile so yours is professionally credible.
- Start attending networking events.
Networking Mojo Tips podcast
Unsolicited Electronic Messages Act (2007) – NZ Anti Spam Act
Empathy 101 – the difference between empathy and sympathy
Are we connected on LinkedIn?
I’m really into connecting with people who visit Get Googlin so please feel free to reach out and connect.