Whether you it comes naturally to you or not, networking is an essential part of growing your business; but showing up at a networking event is only half the battle.
Successful networking requires that you master a few essential skills – you need to know the best way to approach a stranger, how to gracefully break away from familiar clusters of people, and to have a plan for what to talk about in advance (without making it seem scripted, of course).
Luckily, there are plenty of easy-to-implement strategies you can use to make sure you get the most out of a networking event.
Keep these simple tips in mind and you’ll be networking like professional in no time:
1. Do Your Homework
The “work” of networking starts well in advance of the event. Before you arrive, take time to learn the agenda of the event, who will speak and who will be there. If possible, obtain a list of attendees in advance.
You’ll also want to prepare an introduction that’s clear, interesting and well-delivered. Practice it until it feels natural.
2. Prepare a List of Questions in Advance
Not sure how to start a conversation, and keep it going? Prepare a short a list of questions in advance that you can commit to memory and draw from to keep the conversation moving.
A few examples include:
- What does your company do?
- What industry do you serve?
- Who are your key prospects/clients?
- What type of products/services do you sell?
- What got you started in this industry/job?
- What do you enjoy most about your work?
3. Listen More Than You Talk
Keep the 80/20 rule in mind – listen 80% of the time and only talk 20% of the time.
You’ll learn a lot more about other people that way, which can help you determine whether they are qualified contacts with which to build relationships afterward.
4. Make Introductions for Other Attendees
If you know a few people at the networking event, helping others make connections can be just as valuable as making your own – other attendees will surely be grateful for your assistance, and may be willing to reciprocate when they have a similar opportunity.
There are many different ways you can go about match-making at an event – just be sure to approach it in a way that feels natural and not forced.
For example, you can use it as an opportunity to break the ice and suggest that you and another attendee “work the room” together and see if there’s anyone you can introduce him to.
5. Take a Deep Breath
Many, if not most, of the other people at the networking event are in the same position you are. The key is to relax and remember that people love to talk about themselves – most will be flattered if you approach them and show interest, and will often reciprocate.
6. Don’t Forget to Smile
While remembering to smile may seem a bit basic, the last thing you want to do is walk around the event so focused on the need to network that you ironically make yourself seem less approachable.
In the End, It’s All About Relationship-Building
Remember, networking is simply about relationship building, and you don’t need to over-think it. Your goals are simple – get to know people and ask them questions about their business to find out how you can help them, and help them learn more about you and your business so they’ll know if they can be of assistance.