Networking events are only a big deal to people who don’t know what they’re supposed to do when they get there.
What kinds of questions do I ask? When should I hand out my business card? Who should I talk to?
People will tell you there are no rules to networking events (in other words: just be yourself). Unfortunately, being yourself won’t help you get the most out of your event experience.
How to Work a Room
Don’t be yourself, be your business.
Meeting you should feel like a more valuable version of visiting your website, reading your blog, or going to your office. You’re there to represent your business, not yourself. Is your business tied in with your personal brand? Well that’s where there’s a thin line.You want to make a conscious effort to maintain the personality of your brand.
I’m not just talking about how you interact with people because there’s a little more to it than that. I’m also referring to what you choose to wear and what you do when you’re not actively engaged in conversation. Do you stand near the wall? Are you on your phone? Are you separated from the group? Do you appear to be intriguingly mysterious or awkward and socially inept? You just never know who’s eyeing you at a networking event and trying to determine whether or not you’re worth an exchange.
Business cards come last, not first.
You know what the most valuable business card I’ve gotten from a networking event looks like? It’s plain. A white card with a name and a website. That’s right, I had to actually go through the trouble of visiting the website to get the phone number.
Guess what, it was worth it.
Whoever gave the advice to give out as many business cards as possible should be forced to eat anchovies and brussel sprouts for a week. At a networking event, your business card doesn’t say a single thing about you. At the most, a unique business card says that you spent a little more money on yours than everyone else.
You want to give your business card to people who can put a face to the name.
What’s more important than who you give your card to is when you give your card to them. After you strike up a conversation with someone, you want them to disclose a little about themselves before you give your pitch. There are many ways to do that:
- Comment on an event
Before the networking event, you should get up to date on the trending stories that week. You don’t want to be the one who says, “I haven’t heard about that.”
- Ask about their hobbies (So, what do you do when you’re not working?)
- Ask a general question (Where did you fly in from?)
- Ask for advice (What advice would you give someone just starting in your industry?)
- Ask a loosely related business question (How much time do you spend writing? What do you love the most about what you do?)
After you’ve got them in the mood to talk, use a segue to tell them about your business and wait for the follow-up question.
As you answer their follow-up question, hand them your business card.
From that moment on, they will psychologically associate seeing your business card with receiving valuable information. Tomorrow, when they’re deciding which business cards to throw out and which to hold on to, they’ll make a mental note to follow up with you.
You’ll know everything you need to know if you listen.
The purpose of a networking event isn’t brand awareness or pitching people – it’s getting to know other business professionals and making valuable connections. If you want to know the who’s who in the room, you have to spend the majority of your time listening.
When you do talk, make every word count. Add something valuable to the conversation, ask a strategic question, make a declarative statement. The more you spend time listening, the easier it will be to figure who you should talk to next. You’ll have the social advantage of going from “networker” to “connector.”
How to maximize your efforts
- Learn how to tell a mesmerizing story
- Mimic the physical behavior of the person you’re talking to
- Come to the networking event prepared (know the latest news)
- Have conversations with people in different industries
- Use people’s names throughout the conversation
- Don’t be afraid to ask mildly personal questions (What scares you the most about in your business?)
- Don’t stress about your business card design
- Write a key word on the business cards of people you want to follow up with so you can remember the conversation
Networking events become much less stressful when you change your perception. You’ll fall in love with these events when you go with the intention of making genuine connections – the other benefits are just a plus.
Resources for You
Finding Your Edge by Kayla Hollatz
The Telephone is Not Dead by Chris Ducker
Create a Brand Statement in 10 Minutes by Regina
Can’t Miss Conferences for Entrepreneurs in 2016 by Cheryl Snapp
Which networking event has been your favorite to attend? Let me know in the comments below!