This guide assumes that you’ve already attended a few networking events; you feel relatively comfortable entering a room full of people and making connections.
But something is still missing.
The last couple of events you’ve attended have been rather flat, and you can’t honestly lay claim to having gained a single useful connection from any of them.
If this sounds familiar, it’s living proof that mastering the art of networking is really rather challenging, and while none of us will become experts at it, we can all strive to make the most of such events by continually improving our approach.
In this blog, we’re going to consider some business networking tips that are the next ‘notch’ up on the competency scale. They’ll take you from a networking beginner to someone who can never look back and think “I wish I’d made more of that event”.
Determine how often you can attend networking events
To become a seasoned professional at the networking game, you need to put some structure around it.
If you start to treat networking as a semi-regular task in your calendar and view them as meetings rather than excuses to get out of the office, their importance and value will increase.
Take a look through the year and be honest with yourself; how many networking events can you realistically attend without causing problems elsewhere within the business? Write down a number.
Develop an ‘elevator pitch’
Although you shouldn’t view networking events as sales tasks (no one wants to be sold to at that time), you do need an elevator pitch.
This will enable you to tell someone exactly what your business does, along with it’s goals and unique selling point, within thirty seconds or less.
“We sell software to manufacturers” simply isn’t enough. “We’ve found a brilliant opportunity to help manufacturers increase their output by 30% with our software” is getting closer.
Take time to develop your elevator pitch and rehearse it in front of a mirror. It should come across entirely naturally, unforced and conversational in tone.
Develop some open-ended questions
As much as you might want to stand there and talk about yourself, business networking is all about asking questions – lots of questions.
You can start with the ice-breakers (“rubbish weather, isn’t it?”) and then move into the open-ended stuff that will give you far more insight.
Ask people what they expect to get from the event; what their thoughts are on X development within the industry; how they intend to make a success of the rest of the year – that kind of thing.
Remember – you’re looking for insight, not one-word answers to run-of-the-mill questions.
Attend each event with a plan
If you don’t have a plan before stepping into that room, you’ll end up leaving with the distinct impression that you’ve wasted your time.
Your goal might be to simply connect with three industry influencers or to finally speak to that competitor you’ve had your eye on. Whatever it is, get it straight in your mind a good day or so before the event.
On arrival, step to the side
Networking newbies often make the mistake of walking in and going straight for the jugular, but by immediately jumping into conversation, you’re missing a vital opportunity.
When you get there, step aside and get a feel for your surroundings. Look for familiar faces, and those which aren’t so recognisable (see the next tip). See if you can get a feel for the ambiance – are people milling around nervously or does there appear to be some camaraderie already building? Where can you make your mark first?
When you feel comfortable with your surroundings, that’s the time to step in and get cracking.
Sit with strangers
Another classic networking newbie mistake is to only approach the people you know from elsewhere.
But you’re not a newbie, and therefore you know the benefits of instead talking to total strangers. That is, after all, the whole point of networking; you can always catch up with the people you know outside of the room (they won’t mind, because they’ll probably be approaching the event in the same manner).
Don’t do the handshake/business card thing
Whatever you do, don’t do the thing where you shake someone’s hand and surreptitiously hand them a business card at the same time.
It’s crass, weird and utterly pointless.
Work out a disengagement strategy
There’s no getting away from the fact that you’ll occasionally find yourself involved in conversations that don’t appear to be going anywhere.
If that happens and it becomes clear that there’s no business value in the discussion being had, you’ll need to lean on a clean disengagement strategy.
This is simple, thankfully – you just need to be polite, allow the person to finish and end the conversation with something along the lines of “look, it’s been fascinating chatting – thank you for the insight”. A handshake will make it clear that you need to move on, and no one’s feelings will be hurt.
Don’t make your goal obvious
We mentioned the importance of a business networking plan earlier, but it shouldn’t dominate your thoughts. If it does, you’ll probably inadvertently shoe-horn it into every conversation.
The goal should be something you keep at the back of your mind – it shouldn’t be obvious to people in the room.
Consider yourself a secret business agent, focused on getting the most out of your visit. Use politeness and those open questions to reach your goal without making a nuisance of yourself.
Don’t expect to receive anything without giving
Networking is a two-way thing, and we’re not talking about exchanging business cards.
Remember that you’ll be asked plenty of questions too, therefore give each one your full consideration and be honest with your answers. The more honest and forthcoming you are with useful detail, the more you’ll get in return.
Consider your wider network when chatting (it’s not just about you!)
It’s easy to focus on yourself during networking events, but when recommending services or solutions to problems people are having, think of your wider network.
Make quality referrals and you’ll slowly become known as someone who is well-connected. This goes a long way in the field of networking and will raise your profile within the business community.
If you find yourself regularly recommending the same person or company, why not invite them along as a networking ‘partner’ to the next event?
Look for other opportunities within the networking group
Some networking events offer speaking slots or opportunities to host workshops. If you’re up for it, spend some time researching those opportunities before you attend and speak to the organisers.
If you do more than mingle, people will naturally want to talk to you.
Master your follow-up game
You could have the most successful day’s networking, but if you fail to conduct any form of follow-up you’ll all but have wasted your time.
Get into a networking event follow-up routine.
Set reminders, have email templates at the ready (although make sure you personalise them a bit before sending) and have a staged plan that mixes the ways you’ll communicate with people you meet.
Just don’t become a nuisance; following-up is a delicate balance between letting someone know you value their time and not becoming a regular in their inbox.
Even in a world of relentless digital communication and faceless networking, business gatherings remain entirely relevant.
If anything, they’re very refreshing, and few people need a better excuse to leave the office for half a day and mingle with people who may one day become very useful partners.
Use our tips above, and you’ll greatly reduce the danger of feeling like you’ve wasted your time at a networking event.