Mastering Professional Networking
We have all heard about the importance of networking for your business and your career in general. If you have not heard this before, trust me, professional networking is very important. Furthermore, navigating networks of people is a good leadership skill to have.
As summer approaches, you are guaranteed to see professional networking events pop-up almost every day. But, how do you select the ones worth your while? How do you avoid sounding like a broken record, repeating the same questions and providing the same answers over and over again?
Like any other business undertaking, professional networking must be planned and properly executed to prevent it from becoming a dull affair. Below, I offer ten tips to making the most of a networking event. These tips are based on my personal experience and observation from the numerous events I attended. I hope you find them beneficial.
1. Screen and Filter
You do not have to attend each and every networking opportunity you see or get invited to. This may be the case when you are new to a city or new to the professional networking scene. But with time, you should be able to screen and filter events before you commit your time. Read the event description carefully to gauge possible attendants and see if they fit your personal objectives.
Moreover, space out the events to give yourself a break. There is a lot of effort that goes into attending a networking event, prior and after the event, so make sure you have sufficient time to reflect and follow-up with any successful contacts you have made.
2. Have a Plan
Have a personal objective for every networking event you go to, and a target of who you want to meet. Are you going to meet with peers? are you going to meet with potential customers or leads? are you going to gain knowledge or raise awareness?
Depending on the event, I set a number of people I want to connect with focusing on the quality rather than quantity of people. Once I reach my target, I relax and enjoy the event, or simply leave.
Whatever your plan, do not make a habit of pushing your business card on people, especially if they do not meet your target. Rather, wait for them to ask for it and treat each connection like a treasure.
3. Be an Early Bird
Go early! Aim to be among the first five people or so, especially if alcoholic beverages are offered as part of the event. I typically dedicate the first hour for serious business connections, then I relax and simply enjoy mingling and socializing with people.
Needless to say, you need to control your own drink and behave in a professional manner. Last impressions are lasting impressions, so make sure you leave good memories in people’s minds.
4. Ask Extraordinary Questions
After the warm greetings and introductions, ask an interesting and genuine question instead of the usual “what do you do?”.
Here are some interesting conversation starters to think about:
- What wild thing happened to you this week?
- What interesting thing you learned today?
- Who made an impact on you lately?
- What was an aha moment for you?
5. Follow Up
Follow up with those you made good connection with. If you promised to provide them with information or introduce them to others …. etc. follow through.
I normally put a mark on a business card as soon as possible noting the date and type of event, as well as an interesting fact associated with the person behind the card. That way, I can pick up from where we left when I connect with them again.
6. Widen Your Circle
Invite the interesting contacts you made to your website, encourage them to subscribe to your newsletters, events and/or blogs to keep the connection going. Remember, networking is not about finding leads, but rather helping others, building relationships and raising awareness on what you do.
7. The Meeting After The Event
Try to setup a meeting outside the networking event to keep them engaged. Focus on relationship building vs trying to sell to them. Find out more about what they do, who they know, what trends they see, and what is happening in the city/industry …etc.
8. Be a Giver
Give your contacts something useful to them or to their businesses. This could be in a form of more information, an invitation to an interesting event, a promotional value or simply introducing them to people who can help them.
9. Build Rapport
The main reason for attending professional events and networking is to build rapport and have good relationships with people. By all means, raise awareness of your business and your passions, but do not push for your business. Let them know what you do so they know who to come to when the need arises.
10. Follow Up Again
I typically follow up with people three times within six months; after the third time, I drop it. You don’t want to be nagging them or forcing a relationship they do not want or do not see as mutually beneficial.
You may want to follow up with them more than three times or drop it after the second touch-point, whatever you decide, a follow up after the initial follow up is recommended.