I’ve been to several networking events recently, and it occurs to me that there are a lot of people out there that just do not know how to network. Networking is the thing to do, it’s something everyone is talking about – but what it really is, is a skill that many people just haven’t mastered. Many people are awkward and uncomfortable and all that does is make other people awkward and uncomfortable. I truly enjoy networking. It can be fun and interesting but you have to know what to do. Here are five basic tips to have a successful experience at your next networking event:
- Have a Home Base – If it’s possible, go to the event with a friend or colleague. I like to call this person my “home base.” Now, and this is important, don’t stay with this person all night. The purpose of home base if to provide a safe place for you to retreat to if you have a lull in your networking and can’t readily find another person to talk to. It prevents you from wandering around the event looking lost or looking like you’re trying to find someone to talk to. When one conversation ends, you just head over to home base. Now, you’re walking with purpose and confidence and you look like you know what you’re doing and where you’re going. When you get to home base, if he or she is a good networking buddy they will eagerly welcome you into any conversation they may be having when you approach and introduce you to whoever they are talking to. If your home base is alone when you approach, then you just chit chat and regroup until you see an opportunity to start a conversation with someone else.
If you are alone at an event, the bar or buffet table can easily serve as home base. Just head for the bar or buffet, eat or have a drink while you regroup and then head back out there and keep networking.
- Respond and Ask a Question – It may seem obvious that if someone speaks to you, you should respond but I have noticed that many people don’t seem to have that down pat. If someone says hello and introduces themselves to you. Then you should respond – say hello or hi or whatever your normal greeting is, tell them your name and then to keep the conversation going, ask a question. The question can be simple – “how are you?” or “what do you do?” are good questions to ask.
- Be Easy – this just means relax. Don’t feel compelled to tell the person everything about your business, your products, or the services right out of the gate. Networking is a long game. You should not be expecting to close sales or get referrals at these events. Believe it or not, you don’t even have to talk about business. Ask them questions. See if you have anything in common with the person. Have they attended this event before? Is this their first time at this venue? If you’re a sports fan, did they catch the game last night? If you just saw a great episode of Game of Thrones last night it’s fine to say “Hey, do you watch Game of Thrones?” and if they do and they just happened to see the Red Wedding episode then oh my goodness, now you have something to talk about. You’re going to exchange business cards, it’s going to happen but don’t force it. Just try to have an organic conversation and make a genuine connection with the person. And if you don’t have a connection with them, then you just don’t and that’s ok. This brings me to the next tip, which is –
- Know When to Get Out – If you’re having an awkward conversation, a boring conversation or you’re not connecting with the person, it’s absolutely acceptable to end the conversation. Smile, look the person in the eye, shake their hand (if it feels right), give an exit statement and walk away. Here are a few exit statements for you:
- “It’s been nice (great or your adjective of choice) talking to you.” Then walk away. If you’re uncomfortable leaving it there you can add “take care” or “enjoy the event” or “Have a great time” before walking away.
- “Oh, I see my colleague (friend or whoever you see) looking for me. It’s been great talking to you.” Then head for home base.
- ”It’s been great talking to you. I’m starving (thirsty, etc.) I’m going to grab something eat (drink, etc.). Then walk away.
Even when conversations are going well, you don’t want to talk too long and reach an awkward point in the conversation. Leave when things are good, especially if you know you want to follow up with the person to get to know them better. Possible exit statement:
- “It has been awesome meeting you. Do you have a card? I’d love to get together for coffee sometime. Would that work for you?” Exchange information, say “I’ll be in touch” and then leave.
- Follow Up – If you took business cards, with the intent to follow up, make sure you actually follow up. Call or email the person within a week or so to invite them to coffee or set up a time to talk more.