Recently there seems to have been an explosion of business networking events. Organisations seem to have a renewed hunger for getting “out there” and meeting as many people as they can, desperate to shake off the recession and to “do business.” However many people say that they do not enjoy networking events and try to shy away or avoid it completely. As an event management company it often surprises us how some people prefer to arrive at an event late and leave early, perhaps to avoid any valuable networking time and then also seemingly aim to avoid all interaction with other attendees during break times by focusing solely on their phone, never even looking up and blanking everyone else around them. Others embrace it, making useful new contacts and sparking ideas and collaborations for the future.
Love it or loathe it though networking effectively is an important part of business. We hope this blog on networking will help minimise any uncomfortable situations and enable you to get the most out of any forthcoming networking opportunity.
Never go to any business function, conference or networking event without business cards – and lots of them! For a small investment you can ensure anyone you connect with has a way to contact you in the future. Even if there is no immediate business opportunity you never know what may change or who that person will talk to down the line. You want to ensure they have a card from you so they can hopefully dig out your business card when needed. Think carefully about your business cards – do they stand out for the right reasons and represent your company, do they explain succinctly what you do, do they have all of the communication channels listed for you and the business? Nowadays many people are adding their Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn details on their business cards or even QR codes.
When you exchange business cards take a moment to look at the card and the person and try to memorize the two. Whilst the contact is still fresh in your mind it may also be worth noting on the business card where you connected (we often note date, event and venue to jog my memory) and any particular business opportunities between you, for instance have they requested a brochure is sent out to them or would it be worthwhile to set up a meeting?
Explaining your Business
Can you succinctly introduce and explain what your business does? The ultimate crime of networking is not explaining properly what your organisation actually does, presuming that it will be obvious from the business name or that the other person will know your industry like you do. People will quickly lose interest if they do not understand properly from your brief introduction. And under no circumstances should you use technical jargon as this will often switch people off. Why are you different from your competitors? What is your niche?
You should practise a brief clear introduction for the company and your role within it. If you are looking to network and specifically find a business contact or requirement don’t be afraid to state this too – the person you have connected with may be able to introduce you to someone they would recommend or offer some advice even if they do not have an immediate direct need for your product or service.
Don’t forget that if you are feeling nervous others will be too. When you first arrive look for other people that are not deep in conversation or ask to join onto a friendly looking group. I always just simply say “Do you mind if I join you?” and so far I haven’t come across a group that hasn’t been accommodating. Conversations can often be struck up easily at the refreshment table too. Being confident to strike up a conversation does become easier with practice if it isn’t something that comes naturally to you at first. Smile!
Don’t judge a book by its cover – you cannot tell by looking at someone what industry they work in or their seniority within the company. I set up Events Northern Ltd at the age of 23. I would hate to think that people may have passed over speaking to me thinking I was perhaps too young or not senior enough to make purchasing decisions. Instead they would have connected with the top decision maker! Talk to anyone and everyone.
Ensure the flow of conversation is fair – ask questions as well as giving information back.
Be positive! People do not want to know about your personal problems, they are there to talk business.
Always give your full attention to the person you are talking to but don’t be afraid to move on when both parties have introduced themselves and cards have been exchanged.
Likewise do not be tempted just to talk to those you know and not to approach anyone new.
Seize every opportunity – after all if you don’t talk to people during this networking opportunity your paths may never cross again. You want to be sure that you have made the most of it.
After the event follow up on any warm leads and actions as soon as you can so it isn’t forgotten about. Did you promise to send over a brochure or price list? Would it be worthwhile to connect on Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn/Google+? Should you set up a meeting? Under no circumstances should you be contacting or meeting with everyone you talked to – only those where there is a strong potential for future business.
Don’t forget to facilitate worthwhile connections between parties when you can. In the world of business we strongly believe that “what goes around comes around” and you never know in the future when someone might return the favour.
With any event we organise we are always keen to allow time for networking as part of the schedule. We ourselves are also embracing the influx and variety of networking events currently being scheduled and we are enjoying attending as many networking events as our diaries allow.
We hope our paths may cross at a future networking opportunity and if so make sure you say “hello!”