Deeper Connections – A Guide to Successful Networking
In the sea of networking events and meetups, you may feel like you’re drowning. We’ve all heard it: whether you provide a service or a product you are your most important commodity. So the question remains, how do you set yourself apart and make a deep connection during a first meeting?
First, let’s set aside the 30 second commercial. Used for introductions in a group setting, it won’t help you connect with someone one on one. Instead, let’s look at the nature of networking, how to utilize networking etiquette, how to be prepared for a networking event and how to set the groundwork for a lasting connection.
As business owners, we’ve come to know that networking is an important part of a marketing strategy. Meeting face to face, several times over the course of a year, allows you to not only create the trust to do business with one another but also helps you to develop a strong referral network. To solidify your position in a particular group, networking has to be an ongoing action. It’s not a “hit it and quit it” situation but rather a long haul proposition. Allow others to get to know you by joining a group and attending as many events as you can. Joining a group is just the first step to success. Involvement in the group is what continues the journey.
Preparing for an Event
Have your materials ready. You may never pull your business card out of your pocket or purse but have it packed. Don’t be the person who left them back at the office. Print information for your upcoming event or carry a brochure/postcard containing more information. If you find yourself in a deeper conversation and the other person asks for more then you should have it on hand. Never offer a card or brochure unless you’re asked for it. Do that, and they’ll just toss it in the trash.
Be ready with what you would like to talk about. Have a few points in your mind. They might be business related or personal. Business examples: Promotions, New Business Products, New Services. Personal Examples: A Charity you are Passionate About, Other Resources you have used as a Business Owner, Work/Life Balance, Spare Time Hobbies.
If there’s a Facebook Event, Eventbrite or Meet Up created then have a look at the guest list. Be aware of who is going to attend and who you would like to meet. If you are friends with any of the attendees, familiarize yourself with what is happening in their life. Remember that the algorithms on social media platforms control what you see. They may have a life event happening that as their friend you should be aware of but it has never come across your newsfeed. So make sure you visit their page.
At The Event
Before you even walk into the event take a moment to do a self-check. Don’t enter the event in a rush, angry or frustrated. If you were just battling traffic, leave that in the car. Make sure you enter the event open-minded, mindful of what you would like to talk about and then smile (fake it if you have to.) Remember, most people will sense if you enter the event agitated and will not want to hold a lengthy conversation with you or they will avoid you altogether.
Be On Time and Always Register. Arriving late or unsure of registration makes you seem disorganized. This may reflect on whether someone wants to do business with you. People always want to do business with an expert in the field so anything you do which makes you seem less composed may harm your image. On that same note, make sure you look clean and tidy and anything you bring with you like a purse or briefcase is also clean, in good shape and organized. There’s nothing like a flutter of papers spilling onto the floor to unravel a composed image.
Always smile and shake hands with the first person you see. This is a great way to warm up. If it’s someone who is hosting the event, that’s ok. It’ll help you get into the groove of being the first one to say hello.
Always approach and be the first to say “hello.” Be ready to be the first to ask who the other person is. Pose questions like; “Tell me what you do,” “How long have you done this, and “What makes you so passionate about this?”
Keep those business cards at bay. Never give them out unless the other person asks for it. They may say something like “Let’s connect” or “I would love to talk more about this..
Open angles. This should be a group mantra. Never stand in discussion with toes pointing to toes. You and the other person may be in an in depth conversation but at a networking event everyone should feel welcome. So a group of two should always be aware if someone is approaching the group and be ready to open the angle to incorporate them into the conversation. If you make it a practice to stand at an open angle with another person then an approaching person will always feel welcome.
Be the connector. This is a two-fold guideline that happens during and after the event. Be ready to jump in to introduce a new connection to others you know at the event. Also be listening for opportunities to connect the new connection to others in the room. Say things like: “Don’t let me forget to introduce you to … they are a perfect connection for you”. It lets the other person know that you heard what they were saying. Listen to what the person is saying rather than thinking about what you are going to say next. Repeat or clarify what you have heard them say. At this point you might also tell them that you identify with it or agree.
After the Event
Reconnect on a personal level. Now is your chance to thank the person you met. Send them a short personal message saying that you enjoyed meeting them. Reference what you were talking about if you made a personal connection like; your kids went to the same camp… or that you enjoyed your conversation about …
At this point don’t send them a book about you and your services or your product. If they required info from you about something then this is the moment to open the door. Remember, spam is only good on toast or in Monty Python Songs. Don’t be a card collector and email generator. Keep that first email short and comfortable. Don’t add anyone to your newsletter without their permission. This just leaves a bad taste in their mouth. Ask them in that first email if you can add them. Tell them why it would benefit them to be added. If you can link the info that you provide in your newsletter to something they said, something you talked about or they are interested in, even better.
Virtual Friends. Either at the event while you’re having a conversation or at this point you should send your connection a friend request on Facebook and/or LinkedIn. This way you can connect with them on an ongoing basis in a deeper way.
Be the Connector (Again). Introduce your new connection to other people you think they should meet. If they told you they are looking to rebrand then this is the time to send a message and ask if they still have that need and that these are the people you would recommend. Then let that recommended business know that you have sent their name to your new connection. Beware: Only recommend businesses you have done business with or those who run their business with integrity. If your new connection does business with your recommendation and it goes sour it might reflect poorly on you as well.
First impressions are important but in networking never underestimate the power of consistency. Whatever that new connection thought of you on that first meeting has to be maintained throughout your relationship. Their overall impression is created through your demeanor, attendance consistency, your ease of manner, your follow up and follow through.