A while ago, I wrote a bit about networking, and I promised some ideas for making it easier. So here are a few ideas to get you going:
- Set a goal: Decide how many new contacts you want to make. Be realistic about this. If you struggled to talk to 2 people at your last networking event, you want to set a goal of maybe 5 new contacts, not 20. And if you can exceed your goal, well done! Is there someone you specifically want or need to meet? That is a goal as well.
- Practise your introduction: Say your name clearly, especially if you have an unusual name. You can also repeat it, e.g. ‘Riani…Riani de Wet’. You will be asked what you do. Think about how you want to answer this question before hand, and practise it. Do not say ‘I am in marketing’, but rather ‘I work with my clients/ACME company to find creative ways to introduce new product lines to their customers’. Focus on the benefit or value you ad to your employers or clients.
- Ask open ended questions: Nothing stalls a conversation as much as a series of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ questions and answers. So frame your questions to allow for more personalized answers. Instead of asking ‘Are you enjoying the event?’, try ‘What did you think about the speaker?’
- Listen: This is probably the most important part of networking. Listen to what the other person is saying. Sometimes we are so nervous about the conversation, that we end up thinking about our next questions more than about the response to the current one. You are filling in a questionnaire, you are trying to have a conversation. That means pay attention, and
- Ask follow-up questions: If you listen to the other person, questions will often formulate themselves. If the person just mentioned they had had a rough day at the office, the correct response is not ‘What did you think about the speaker?’ but rather ‘Oh, I hate those days too. What happened?’ And again, listen! If the other person answers vaguely, he/she probably doesn’t want to talk about it. But if they do respond, pay attention. If you can offer advice or a suggestion, do so. If not, acknowledge the person’s feelings, and show some empathy.
- Business cards: Going to a networking event without business cards is like…well, don’t, just don’t. Have cards ready. Make sure they are up to date. No scratched out numbers. Business cards are cheap, and can be printed very quickly. So no excuses. But don’t hand them out like you are handing out flyers on a busy street corner. Give them to people you have a conversation with, and people who ask for them. Make sure you collect some from the people you talk to, as well.
- Take notes: Make a few notes about the conversations you have. Something interesting about the person you spoke to, or something they said. The back of their business cards is an excellent place to do this.
- Follow up: Send a quick email to your new contacts within a few days, thanking them for the chat. Mention something about the conversation or the event, to remind them of who you are. And in your daily work, when you come across something interesting, think about all the people you have met at events, and share that with them. Do not put your contacts in the back of your drawer, only to pull them out when you need something. Add some value to the relationship first, before you expect any reciprocation.
How do you keep your networking contacts active?