But many of us dread walking into a room and introducing ourselves to a bunch of strangers. We get direct referrals through our network teams but we need to be cultivating referral resources through our memberships & community connections. Here are a few valuable tips:
1. Resist the urge to be fashionably late. It’s almost counter-intuitive, but showing up early at a networking event is a much better strategy than getting there on the later side. As a first attendee, you’ll notice that it’s calmer and quieter – and people won’t have settled into groups yet. It’s easier to find other people who don’t have conversation partners yet.
2. Ask easy questions. Don’t hold up the wall or wait for someone to approach you. To get the conversation started, simply walk up to a person or a group, and say, “May I join you” or “What brings you to this event?” Don’t forget to listen intently to their replies. If you’re not a natural extrovert, you’re probably a very good listener – and listening can be an excellent way to get to know a person. When first getting your feet wet bring someone with you – walk up to a group or single person and say, “Not sure if you’ve met…” & introduce the person you are with, then follow up with & by the way I’m…. Works every time!
3. Ditch the pitch. Remember, networking is all about relationship building. Keep your exchange fun, light and informal – you don’t need to do the hard sell within minutes of meeting a person. The idea is to get the conversation started. People are more apt to do business with – or partner with – people whose company they enjoy. You don’t network to sell a product or service you network to build a connection, that leads to a follow up meeting that ends in one or both of you getting or referring business!
**If a potential customer does ask you about your product or service, be ready with that one thing that makes you stand out from your competitors. ‘BE INTERESTING’ Stay away from the traditional, “I am a ……….” if you give the generic intro they will sum up what they think you do from their own knowledge bank, which will cause you to be lumped into a category.
4. Be passionate. Win people over with your enthusiasm for your product or service. Leave a lasting impression by telling a story about why you were inspired to create your company or do what you do in your industry. Talking about what you enjoy is often contagious, too. When you get other people to share their passion, it creates a memorable two-way conversation.
5. Smile. It’s a simple – but often overlooked – rule of engagement. By smiling, you’ll put your nervous self at ease, and you’ll also come across as warm and inviting to others. Remember to smile before you enter the room, or before you start your next conversation.
6. Two ears ONE mouth. Some people who dislike networking may overcompensate by commandeering the discussion. Don’t forget: The most successful networkers (think of those you’ve met) are good at making other people feel special. Look people in the eye, repeat their name & listen to what they have to say. Be a conversationalist, not a talker.
7. Remember to follow up. It’s often said that networking is where the conversation begins, not ends. If you’ve had a great exchange, ask your conversation partner the best way to stay in touch. Some people like email or phone; others prefer social networks like LinkedIn. Get in touch within 48 hours of the event to show you’re interested and available, and reference something you discussed, so your contact remembers you. Write on the back of their business card something you can refer to later so they know you were sincere.
Success is only one connection away – Kristi Kirkland