Author: Stephanie O’Brien
Networking post-pandemic is a little bit different than it used to be. Networking: Remember networking? It seems like all people can focus on these days is the next big event. This blog is not for you if networking means randomly going to meetings to try to shake hands with as many people as you can. We are all a little awkward as we get back to networking but here are eleven ways to knock your efforts out of the park.
1 – Say hello like you mean it.
Make people feel seen and focus solely on the person or people in front of you. When people feel like someone is taking a genuine interest, they receive that feel-good dopamine rush; in turn, being present with someone will also make you feel good! These types of interactions are not only the ones that people remember but that they remember in tandem with a positive feeling or emotion.
2 – Tell your story in a way that allows your new contact to see themselves in it.
Talk about your experiences and the hardships you have faced, and overcome. Be sure to maintain a two-way conversation while you’re telling your story, allowing for their insights and questions. Keep it short, sweet and relatable (bonus points for inspiring). Do you know how business leaders struggle with feeling stuck, growing too fast, or want someone to hold them accountable for what they say they want to do? I will help with that.
Instead, have your information prepared as a contact on your phone. Say, ‘here, let me text my contact information to you.’ This way, you end up with their information and don’t have to wait for them to reply. Plus, it’s better for the environment.
4 – Set your objectives before you attend the event.
Before you even walk in the door, plan:
How many conversations will you have? and,
How many leads will you leave with?
Having this in the back of your mind will motivate you to achieve your goal and be more open to approaching and being in conversation with others.
5 – Research your audience.
Are you walking into a room of business owners or CFOs in big organizations? If possible, look at the list and do your research. While conducting your research, you will likely stumble across helpful details about the person or their business, such as pain points, recent accomplishments, or future objectives.
6 – Prepare 3-4 key talking points that are not ‘salesy’ and are not about the weather!
Talking about the weather signals to the other person that you find them boring and you are bored, certain topics immediately call attention to the beleaguered state of your conversation. Also don’t try to sell to people at networking events. If the conversation leads to a sales ask naturally, book a follow up meeting or call to cover the sale. Don’t rush the process.
If you research the attendees, it will be easier to have some talking points ready. If not, think about some of your questions about the event you are attending to discuss with others, hopefully generating some thought-provoking conversation. You can also think back to number 2 and have a couple of elevator speeches lined up to share with people to break the ice. Again, be engaging when talking and attentive when listening.
Networking is not a sales meeting. Focus on building relationships; the sales will come. Let’s be truly honest for a moment. Do you enjoy someone sales pitching you when trying to relax and socialize? Fellow professionals can easily spot an agenda during a networking event. Instead, focus on authenticity and personalize the conversation. Ask them about their industry and personal brand; taking the time to learn more about them rather than selling will allow you to win over their respect and trust. Listen to the person you are speaking to; be interested, not just interesting. A conversation is a two-way street, as much as you’ll want to share information about what you do. At a networking event, active listening is critical. Be mindful by taking a step back and allowing your potential contact to open up about themselves; this will help you gain valuable insights into their company.
You get it!
7 – What is your follow-up plan?
How will you reach out and engage with each contact that you meet? The best strategy here is to do it immediately! Offer to help first, I find this has the best outcome.
8 – Follow up again!
Find them on LinkedIn and connect with them or connect with them on their preferred platform. Naturally and subconsciously, people will take a liking to you the more they see or are reminded of you; this is called the mere-exposure effect. A psychological phenomenon where the more exposure someone has to a stimulus (You!), the more this person will consider this stimulus to be pleasant.
9 – Give, not just take.
Networking is all about the give and take. So keep any new contact in your pocket even if your contact isn’t quite the person you were looking for; you never know when that connection could be valuable for someone else.
Ask this, ‘Hey _____, whom do you need to meet in the next 30 days to achieve the goals you just mentioned?’
Following through with genuine interest can transform a brief interaction into a long-lasting partnership and provide insight into their needs.
Match-making is a win for everyone:
You will be providing one person with the perfect client, profiting their business and wallet;
You will be helping someone who needs help in an area outside of your expertise with someone else who can help them and make a difference;
Both of those people will remember you and how you helped them, they will keep you in mind for clients they think might be suited for you!;
Bonus: studies show that acts of altruism help relieve stress and benefit your overall mental health.
10 – Have a calendar link or QR code for anyone who wants to book a meeting. Calendly or KEAP are great options.
Finding a time that works for everyone can be time-consuming and lead to email tag (modern-day phone tag) resulting in nothing ever getting on the books. Since time is of the essence, make it easy for people to book time with you that works for their schedule and reduce your own time spent on the dreaded email tag!
11 – Anticipate – and respect – other people’s boundaries
Regardless of your own level of comfort with physical interactions such as handshakes or hugs, keep in mind that people you meet may not feel the same as you. Some may prefer a fist bump or no contact at all, just meet people where they are at. A very savvy event organizer will provide everyone with a way to distinguish between those that are comfortable with contact and those who are not. For example a green dot on your name tag for those who are comfortable with contact and a purple dot on your name tag for those who are not. This simple system will help remove some of the awkwardness as we all return to networking.
Try a few of these eleven networking tips at your next networking event! Please share your feedback if one of these worked (or didn’t) for you. We are all awkwardly returning to the world of networking, let’s share best practices to make it easier for everyone!