Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Effective Networking Requires Work. How To Make The Most Of Every Event.

 Throughout my years, I have found that networking is an effective tool that can be used to build a business. Through my own trial and error, I have identified what methods work consistently for any networking event.

People are people

As a rule people tend to be reserved, and more often than not, a bit shy. For most people it is hard to enter a room full of strangers and engage them. It is those that can pull the veil of privacy down just a little who find the best results in a networking situation.

Rules to follow

To effectively network, you must do a little upfront homework. This is part of your job, so treat it as such. Done right, networking is work. Here are some of the basics to create an event that will provide value to you.

    1.    Look in your area for events where there might be benefit for your company, or to you as a person. In cities large and small, events happen on a weekly basis. In an average month I get invited to dozens of events, and read about dozens of others. With this huge barrage of possibilities, you need to focus on your business goals, and attend the events that support those goals.

    2.    Identify your networking goals. If you go to an event without at least a loose set of goals, you are not going to benefit much. Sure, you might grab a bite of the standard event fare and a beer, but you will have wasted what could have been a major opportunity.  Some examples of goals might include: make contact with a potential partner or customer, or find out what makes the completion tick. Whatever your specific needs are, review and list the top objectives of the event.

    3.    Prepare for the event. Why go if your event isn't going to advance your business agenda or meet your identified goals?   Plan. This means learn not only about the event, but those who regularly attend the event. Review the event website, LinkedIn and industry sites. Look for reviews of any past events. If they are available, sign up for newsletters connected with the event.

    4.    Do some online "pre-networking". Reach out to a few people you know that may have attended the event. Get familiar with the LinkedIn profiles of those you have found who have attended in the past. Try to connect to a couple potential contacts with a LinkedIn message letting them know you will be attending the event and would like to meet. This will give them the opportunity to get familiar with you through your profile. It also helps them to start thinking about how you might find similar interests or make introductions.

    5.    Identify your top three targets. Target contacts are the people that you absolutely want to meet while attending. Familiarize yourself with your targets through available profiles, news items or other information. Get familiar with any photo of targets so that you can quickly identify them in a crowded room.

On day of event:

    1.    Grab a hand full of business cards. A small amount of cards is all that is needed. If you are moving person-to-person handing out cards at the event, you are wasting your time and money. Focus on finding the people that will make a real impact towards your goals, starting with your preselected targets.

    2.    Show up a few minutes late – yes, late! Why? Well, if you arrive early you will end up getting cornered by a person or group that will take too much of your time. If you arrive a bit late, not only are early arrivals already engaged, more people have arrived, so you will be more likely to be able to mingle and find the people you had set as targets for meeting.
    3.    When you arrive, scan the room. Look for your target contacts first. Plan your movements and path so as to not get caught by unnecessary distractions. Take note of non-verbal cues when moving around the room. Remember, you are there with specific goals. Focus your networking on those goals.
    4.    Make the connection. Your target contacts are likely to be involved in conversations. Work your way over and do the "three-point stand”. This move is basically positioning yourself to form a triangle and attempt to engage both people (as long as it is not a personal conversation).  Make eye contact with your target. If your presence would place more than three people in the stand, move on. 

Too many people to be effective and you might get lost in the crowd.   It is likely your three-point stand will cause the person you are not interested in speaking with to complete their conversation and move on. If that doesn't work or feels awkward, quickly abort and wait for the two to finish their conversation, then reengage with the target.

    5.    Make your initial contact brief and work for a follow-up meet. It is important to not try to close a sale in a networking event unless the target leads you there. What you want to do is to engage, make a positive impression, provide a "teaser", and get the date. If you are networking correctly, you will be asked a couple questions, and this is where you simply exchange business cards.

Tell your target that you would love to get a cup of coffee or meet at the office and chat a little more. Make the second date right then if you can. Then move on. Don't linger. Move away from the target. Look for your next target and do it all over again.

Always be prepared to give. Maybe the only thing you can do for your target is to offer a connection. Do it. The mileage gained from providing a good connection will be better than you might expect, and for me has always paid back with dividends.

     6.    Beware the "friend". Stay away from those who are looking to chat you up. Now, if they are one of your targets, they might have targeted you - Bingo! However, that is the exception to the rule and not very likely.

If you run into personal or business friends, say hi but quickly move on. You can chat anytime.

Always be working your targets. At every event the “lonely attendee” will stop you. These are the people that look at a networking event to socialize rather than do real business. Be polite, but keep moving. Take no more than 30 seconds, and if possible introduce them to someone standing nearby, then politely move on.

    7.    Targets acquired and met, look for new contacts. When you have met your target contacts you can spend a little time making new acquaintances and seeing if there are any potential collaborations. If the house is dry on potential collaborations excuse yourself and head out. It’s okay to leave early.

8.    It’s always best not to be the person that is overly available. Scarcity makes people more interested in meeting and working with you.

If you gathered a bunch of business cards, take time to capture the key interests on the card right away. It might be a personal item or a business need. If you jot the information down now, you will look like a hero later.

After the event:

The closing step is the follow-up. This is where over 99% of network attendees fail. They go, they chat, they leave and they don’t use that valuable business card.

Long term value, zero.

You must close your work. With the information you received at the event, you should go back and research. Your next meeting must have solutions or offers available that will make the people you targeted want to learn more and buy your offer. Call the targets and get a meeting.

Image Credit: Getty Images
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