Effective networking doesn’t come naturally to some people. So in this, the first in a series of articles on how you can make networking for you, we share some ideas on choosing events wisely and preparing for them in advance.
Despite the rise in the importance of a strong digital presence, the old adage that ‘people buy people’ remains true. So, networking events may well play a part in developing your business – whether it’s to find new customers, introducers, suppliers, staff or joint-venture partners. Or you may want to strengthen existing relationships, check out the competition and learn new industry ideas, grow your personal reputation or develop your own skillset.
Choosing events and defining your goals
Be clear about what you want to achieve by attending networking events and assess each opportunity before deciding whether or not to go. Make sure you select the best events for your purposes. Try to get a copy of the guest list in advance to make sure the ‘right’ people will be there.
Work out how much time you should be spending on networking and then make time in your schedule to do it. Don’t try to go to everything that comes up. Set yourself some goals that will help you spend your time at an event effectively and help you evaluate its success afterwards. An example might be to talk to three new people, or to speak to a promising prospect that you will keep in touch with.
Practice your elevator pitch
We‘ve all met people who struggle to explain what they do and play down their role far too much. You’d be surprised how many people apologise for what they do – “I’m afraid I’m in banking” for example – and completely miss the opportunity to attract new work. In this instance it might be much better to say, “ I lend money to businesses, especially retailers and restaurants.” Think about your elevator pitch and practice it. When you meet someone new, think about how will you introduce yourself succinctly so they understand how you help people.
Do your research
Find out more about the people you’d like to speak to. Perhaps check their LinkedIn profile to see if you already have any connections in common, look at their company website and press releases, or search for the business on news sites. Asking for their view on something reported in the press about their business shows you’re informed and interested. Check the administrative arrangements relating to the venue and the event, so you arrive appropriately dressed and on time, rather than in your jeans halfway through the host’s welcome at a black tie function.
Positive mental attitude
Most importantly, make sure you’re in the right mindset and ready to achieve your event goals. If you’re tired or not in the right frame of mind you’re unlikely to be effective and might even damage your reputation. Think about ways to start conversations with new people. Perhaps something relating to the venue or the event, such as “Do you think X will win the award again this year?” Or bring up a topic in the wider news such as “Have you seen the announcement about Bill Gates’ charitable foundation?” Next time, we’ll look in more detail at how to get talking to new people.