Networking events can be daunting. Even the most outgoing people can feel awkward or at a loss for conversation. How much more so the introvert!
Generally speaking the reason we’re scared is because our mental and emotional condition is immersed in “me.” Will I make a fool of myself? Do I look Ok? Will I get yet another no? Me me me! This mindset results in some typical behaviors… see if you recognize any:
• Latching on to one person, engage in conversation and then staying with them, even if there is no potential benefit.
• Migrating to a familiar face and talking about common interests.
• Standing alone looking busy on the cell phone.
• Don’t leave the bar area.
How often have you found the person who will talk your ear off about their product or service and have no awareness of your lack of need for it.
Most people don’t have goal, rendering themselves ineffective, leaving the event frustrated and empty handed.
Here’s another consideration. Nobody goes to a networking event with the intention of buying. Everybody is there to sell or promote something. It’s like a bunch of neutrons in a small space with hardly a proton to be seen.
So what do we do?
What if we approach each networking event with the question, “How can I help someone today?” This is how it could look; after your initial introduction to a stranger, ask about their business. As you listen attentively ask yourself, “Do I need this service? Do I know someone who does? Do I know of a useful contact for them? How can I encourage this person?” Most of the time you will be able to help. If you really can’t, take their card and tell them you will be on the lookout for opportunities for them.
When it’s your turn don’t try to sell them. Remember, nobody goes to a networking event to buy. All too often we tell them about what we offer then either talk too much or leave the conversation hanging awkwardly. I have used the following technique effectively, “Thanks for asking Jane. Companies hire me to grow their business and improve their profits by training their managers to become excellent leaders. I use pretty unique methods to do this. Do you have any connections in this area or do you know anyone who could benefit from it?”
Your response will be tailored for you but the point is I am not trying to get something out of this person. I am probing them and their sphere of influence in a non-threatening way. If they have a need for your service they will be more receptive and continue to ask you questions. If they don’t, you’ve given them an opportunity to help you just as you tried to help them. It is a comfortable path to completing a conversation so that you can move on to the next person.
Along the way always be looking to connect people. This should not be limited to networking events. I once met a man at an industry function. Our business had absolutely nothing in common. We exchanged cards anyway but I forgot about him soon afterwards. A month later I got a call from his secretary. He wanted to introduce me to someone. The secretary set the appointment at a local bistro. When we met, Gary not only introduced me to this person, who eventually became a lucrative client, but he chatted for about 10 minutes to be sure we had a comfortable intro and then left the two of us alone. Get this… he paid for our meals on the way out! Even if this connection had not panned out for me I never forgot Gary. Years later I did have the opportunity to send business his way.
Seeing networking in this altruistic way ensures that you leave a really good impression on anyone you meet. You have approached someone on the level ground of reciprocity, helping each other in this tough business world, as opposed to taking on the “peddling salesperson” mentality. Their experience with you is a pleasantly memorable one and potentially beneficial in the future.
This mindset gives you confidence in a room full of strangers, takes the focus away from ourselves and steers us away from our fears. If you don’t pick up a hot lead you are still sure to make many valuable and enduring connections. You will come away from the meeting with a feeling of accomplishment.
Networking Tips and Etiquette
• Find events related to your business months in advance. Put them on your calendar as an effective marketing option.
• Have a goal for each event. Put numbers to it. These networking events are pipeline builders.
• Prepare. Have your opening sentence down pat to sound confident. Your product or service should appeal to someone else’s ears and emotions, not yours.
• Keep conversations to the point. Establish your connection and move on to the next person. Don’t waste each others’ time.
• Invite a third person into your conversation. Not only do you have more audience but it’s easier to exit the conversation by leaving the other two to continue.
• Be polite, even with “over talkers.” Interrupt politely and say, “Gosh Roger, sounds good” Give me your card and we’ll talk by phone this week. Let’s connect with more folks here today.” Unless you foresee a benefit, that phone call rarely happens.
• Try to exit a conversation by making introductions.
• Be discerning when stepping into a conversation. Politely stand closer. If they open up to you apologize for interrupting and engage with a light hearted quip.
• Look and smell good. First impressions are important.
• Don’t be a close talker. I don’t hear a word when someone is talking six inches away from me as I am frantically on guard to dodge the odd spittle or bad breath.