Nineteen solid suggestions for bringing your schmoozing skills up to snuff.
Networking at events, whether business or social, can be fulfilling and produce the desired result when done well. Here are some guidelines (with thanks to Ivan Misner, author of Networking for Success, and Susan RoAne, nationally known speaker and author of How to Work a Room):
- Come prepared. Have business cards, a pen and even a small notebook. It may come in handy for making more extensive notes than you can fit on the back of a business card.
- Know how to describe your business in one or two sentences, including a benefit statement, or a story about ho you handled a recent project or helped a client.
- Know what you want to accomplish at the event. For example, your purpose may be meeting a certain number of people, or finding a particular resource.
- Act according to the event. If you are attending a networking event, you can be a little more focused on developing business connections than is appropriate at a formal social function.
- Develop several different ways to start conversations. These can include commenting on the reason for the event, asking other people why they decided to attend, or even asking them to tell you something about themselves.
- Be positive, friendly, enthusiastic and have fun! Take the initiative in starting conversations. Avoid making negative comments on the room, the food, the guests or your host.
- Act as if you are a host, not a guest. Reach out to people standing by themselves, the ones Susan RoAne calls "the white knuckle drinkers." Introduce people to each other. Be helpful.
- Don’t be afraid to approach people. Strangers are merely friends you haven’t met yet. If you focus on the other person’s comfort, you will lose your own self-consciousness.
- Exchange business cards when appropriate. Ask for other people’s cards if you sincerely want to keep in touch with them. Not everyone you meet will be a good resource.
- Keep track of your new connections by making notes on the backs of their business cards, or in your notebook. Unless you have an extraordinary memory, you won’t remember the specifics of your conversations without jotting them down on the scene.
- Try to spend no more than l0 minutes with each person you meet. Remember that both of you are at the event to circulate and meet a variety of people, not to spend the entire evening involved in one conversation.
- Listen more than you talk. You have two ears and one mouth. Use them in that proportion. And remember that there is nothing more flattering than someone who listens carefully and shows sincere interest in other people.
- Don’t drink or eat too much. You can’t easily shake hands and juggle a drink and an hors d’oeuvre plate all at the same time. And, while this sounds obvious, you shouldn’t talk with your mouth full.
- Provide a good lead or referral whenever possible. Listen for a need. Tell the prospect you know someone who offers that service, and describe the person or company you have in mind. Ask the prospect if it’s all right to have that person call. Give the information to the prospect, and give the lead to the resource. Above all, don’t knowingly supply bad leads to someone else. "What goes around, comes around" applies to bad leads as well as good ones.
- Know how to gracefully end conversations. According to Miss Manners, it is perfectly fine to simply say, "Excuse me, it has been nice meeting you" or "I’ve enjoyed our conversation." Then visibly move to some other part of the room.
- Follow up with the people you meet, and the contacts they give you, in a timely manner. "If you’re going to ask for a lead," says Susan RoAne, "either follow up on that lead or let the person know you won’t. If your follow-through is weak, people will feel you aren’t good for your word."
- Send a thank you note to sources of new connections, and keep them informed of your progress. They have a vested interest in your success, and will probably want to support you as much as they can.
- Bring your whole self to the event. You are not just your business. On the personal side, you also have a distinct background and a wide variety of interests.
- Be open to serendipity. You never know when the "magic" of networking might strike!
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