When was the last time you were at a networking event? How many people did you approach? How many contacts did you make? Anybody can learn how to network, but real networking involves so much more than just ‘turning up’.
Internet and email is making face-to-face-encounters a thing of the past. Nowadays it is much easier to pick up the phone or shoot over a quick email. Reduced human interaction makes most people feel uncomfortable about networking. This is because it pushes them out of their comfort zone and means they have to talk to people they don’t know. However, just one contact at a networking event may prove immensely valuable to your business in the future.
Our businesses depend on our effective communication skills, but it is so easy for these skills to become rusty if they are not used regularly. Here are some tips that will instantly enhance your networking experiences:
1. Be prepared
Being prepared will help you to feel relaxed when you begin to network. The more you know about the event and the people there, the easier it will be to approach people and talk to them. Have a few business cards ready in your pocket for making those all-important contacts.
2. Dress well
This may not seem like an important point, but it is. Looking smart and well-dressed will boost your own confidence, and other people will notice that you are dressed well. It also helps to create a positive and professional image.
3. Don’t try to talk to everyone
You’ll never be able to speak to everyone at a networking event, simply because there just isn’t the time. Instead, try to focus on networking with a small handful of people. The number of people that you can network with will depend on how much time you have.
4. Pay attention
With so many people and so much going on, it’s easy to get distracted. Pick a few people and pay real attention when you are speaking to them. Really listen and be genuinely interested in what they are talking about. Make them feel like the most important person in the conversation. This will help to lay the foundations for a strong relationship in the future. People quickly notice if you are not paying attention when they speak.
5. Listen more than you speak
The truth is that everyone has self-interest at the core of their priorities. However, if you’re speaking too much about yourself, people will quickly lose interest; making the relationship very unlikely to develop further. Instead, listen more than you speak. Ask insightful questions and establish a rapport.
6. Speak to people you don’t know
We like to stick to what we know, which can make networking difficult. If you go to an event with a colleague or meet someone there that you know, it is best to split up. This way you won’t miss out on one-off opportunities to network with people you may never meet again.
7. Make regular eye contact
Eye contact is a good sign of confidence, and will make people more likely to remember you. You will find it easier to connect with a person if you make regular eye contact.
8. Have an elevator pitch
A good elevator pitch should be about 30 seconds long. Remember, you are not trying to sell to someone at this point, rather to hook their interest. A good elevator pitch will turn a sixty second conversation into a five minute conversation, because it will hook the other person’s interest. It should be well-practised but not come across as rehearsed. You should know exactly what you do and how you bring value.
9. Have an exit strategy
An exit strategy means that you don’t have to speak to one person for too long. It will allow you to “work the room” and network with more than one person. An example of an exit strategy is introducing someone else into the conversation then leaving the conversation to network with someone else.
Networking is about far more than just collecting business cards; it’s about forming real relationships that may be of great benefit to your business in the future. Always email or call your new connections soon after the event, as this will make it much more likely that they remember you. Great relationships are not built in five minutes. They can take months. The value of your networking will only be seen in the success of the follow-up.
These tips are simple and easy to implement, yet will allow you to become one of the most effective and confident networkers in your organisation. Remember, one contact may be all that you need to take your business to the next level. Let confidence and professionalism ooze out the next time you network!