Answer: The best advice comes from Atlanta-based Sam Zammarippa, ”Be interested in other people, and have something interesting to say.” This says it all. Networking is not about you. It is about them and what interests them.
Here are some other tips to getting ready to network.
Don’t go in cold. Research the event. You want to go to the right event. Attending an event without investigating who participates could be a giant waste of time. If those attending cannot get you to the next step in your business or personal objectives, don’t go. Find another event.
Also, have a plan. Just like any other business activity, enter the world of networking with a plan. Try to learn something new or meet three new people at each event.
Travel light. For men wear a jacket with pockets. For women carry a leather portfolio with pockets for business cards, collateral materials for more detailed discussions. But, be selective about whom to give your business card. It is best to wait to be asked for your card than to offer it too early. And, turn off your cell phone. Nothing is a bigger turn-off that when trying to create the foundation for a relationship than a ringing phone that you are tempted to answer.
Walk, the walk. Look confident and ready to connect. Look like you are enjoying yourself and want to share that feeling. Get a feel for the landscape of the event, then engage. Come prepared to dialogue. Don’t sit down right away. Mingle and meet new contacts.
Start your networking where the food is. If you are at an event where you don’t have any connections, then start at the food area. People are more likely to talk to others as they are “food grazing.”
Who’s attending? Browse the floor and see who is attending. Name badge shopping is a no-no so look to see who is there before you engage in a dialogue. Once the conversation starts looking at the name is too late. It is not important to network based on a hierarchy of positions, but base your networking based on who can connect you with whom that will expand your strategic reach.
Spot the loners. Sometimes the best connects are those that are not connected. They will feel good about being engaged and reward you with a new connection that can be the quality you are seeking. If you are attending with someone else, split up so you both can meet new contacts.
Also, you want to look approachable. Be open to engaging with those you don’t know. They will welcome it because they are most likely in the same situation, not knowing many attendees.
Ask about interests. Easy connecting questions, like: What kind of books do you like to read? What is your favorite vacation spot? What movies have you seen that you would recommend? These questions are them, not you. And, when you get an answer, explore then answer. “Oh, you like mysteries. Who is our favorite author?” After you learn who it is, you can add your favorite author. But, then return to their interests. They will then probe your interests.
Press the flesh, but not at the expense of quantity over quality. It is more important to leave a networking session with one valued connection that will extend your community of contacts rather than have a handful of business cards.
Get an introduction. Before disengaging with a new connection, ask them to introduce you to someone else you might connect with at the event.
Networking is all about dialogue. Too many networkers practice their elevator pitches and end up doing monologs not involved in dialogues to produce quality connections vs. contacts. It is important to be “present” when in a dialogue. It’s not about promoting yourself as much as creating the basis for an expanded network of relationships. Focus and concentrate on the individual in which you are engaged. Wandering eyes looking for your next target is very obvious to the other party. Looking over the other person’s shoulder for other attendees is a recipe for disaster in creating a new relationship.
Offer referrals. When conversing with someone and they indicate they are looking for a specialist in SEO optimization or branding, have your referral list with you. Offering to help someone else builds their perception of your personal brand.
Follow-up. When the networking event is over, the relationship building begins. The next morning, a handwritten note thanking them for their time and interest at the event will go a long way in building bridges to expanded relations.