Networking is the art of building and sustaining mutually beneficial relationships. The goal of networking is to communicate with a stranger and make a connection. Depending on the firm you work for, networking events may be mandatory for you to attend, so it’s good to look for ways to make networking easier for you and more comfortable. When you are relaxed and confident at events, you are more approachable by others and come across as friendly and easy to build rapport with.
In general, we communicate by using our voice, words and body language. When you are at face-to-face events, here are a few basic body language reminders:
- Give people 18 inches of personal space
- Stand up tall
- Maintain eye contact without staring
- Keep your hands out of your pockets
- Unfold your arms
- Look people straight in the eye when you shake hands
If you are going to a networking conference anytime soon, here are some tips on how to prepare. First, think about what makes you feel confident and what kind of first impression you want to give to people. That first impression will include your business attire, manners, image, health and haircut. If any of those areas need attention, create a plan to work on them. Secondly, prepare your answer to “What do you do?” Make sure you have your networking accessories before you walk into the event, which are your business cards, a pen, and breath mints.
When you arrive confidently at the networking event, put your name tag on right side of your torso near your shoulder and hold any r beverages in your left hand. Remember to turn off your phone, and if you are eating, stand near a table so you can put your plate down to greet people.
A few important conversation reminders for networking events:
- Concentrate on making the other person feel important
- Share stories, interests, and ideas
- Think in advance about what you want to share
- Ask open-ended questions such as, “What are some good networking events that you’ve been to? What made you decide to come to this event?”
- Complement their attire and/or accomplishments
- Don’t just talk about yourself
- Listen more than you talk
- Be aware of your body language
- Be sincerely interested in others, and give them your full attention
- Respect their point of view
- Don’t interrupt
- Don’t control the conversation
- Discuss, never debate
- Don’t over share personal information
- Don’t use acronyms
- Refrain from swearing or using slang
- Don’t discuss religion, politics or inappropriate jokes
- Be a good listener
If you want to introduce someone, start with their name, title, company and something unique about them. For example, “This is Scott Smith, he is head of marketing for AdvisorWorld, and he is just about to run his first triathlon.” If there is someone specific in mind that you’d like to meet, ask about who would be a good person to introduce you at the event desk. Spend time talking to people at events for only five minutes at a time, and if you want to continue the conversation, ask to follow up for coffee. If you run into a chatty person and want to exit gracefully, smile and say “It was great meeting you, and I want to just say hello to a few more people.”
There are a few guidelines involving about business cards at networking events as well. You want to bring enough of them, and keep extras handy. Hand them out only when asked. Hand out one at a time, write on the back of cards when you receive important information. And, keep the card case with your cards in your right pocket and put other people’s cards in your left pocket so you don’t forget to look at people’s cards after receiving them.
After the event, compile all the cards that you’ve been given and either scan them or input the data into a CRM. Some people like to send invites on LinkedIn. If you do, remind the person at which event you met them in the invite. Others prefer emailing to meet for coffee. If that’s the case, be sure to state the specific reason that you want to connect with them.
If the event you are going to is a must and you’re feeling a little anxious, take a few deep breaths before you go in to relax. Think about how you can attract positive and energetic people. Remember that networking is paying it forward and building relationships before your need them. The secret to being a better networker is practice. So keep networking, and if you run into any great networkers, pay attention so you can learn from them.