Purposeful Networking Beyond Handshakes
Image above – iebn.ro
If an academic qualification gets a foot in the door, networking is a skill that keeps the door wide open. Connecting with the right people in your industry or general business community may propel your career forward by leaps and bounds. Successful people are hardwired to network with the movers and shakers; they are always on the lookout for opportunities to connect, consult and collaborate. Yet for many fresh graduates and startups, diving into the deep end of networking events can be intimidating.
Here are practical tips for your next networking event to go smoothly for you:
Have a goal
For every event that you attend, define your objective clearly. Who can you help? Are you looking to expand your clientele? In a room of 50 people, you could target to introduce yourself to 10 of them and discover 5 whom you may like to meet individually later that week. Listen attentively, make notes on the back of name cards and follow up promptly after the event.
Keep an open mind
The world is more connected than most people think. If you are a marketer of luxury products, do not limit your networking contacts to socialites and millionaires. By referring interior designers or nutritionists to them and generally being helpful, your highflying clients will have better chance to develop an even more positive impression of you.
Look the part
You can make a great impression on whomever you meet by looking the part. An unkempt appearance communicates apathy and disrespect. While it’s not necessary to invest in a swanky wardrobe, it pays to be well-groomed and appropriately dressed for the occasion.
Ice-breakers are important conversation-starters to master. The trick to getting the conversation going is to display interest in what the other person has to say. Good conversationalists do not talk very much; they get others to talk about everybody’s favorite subject — themselves. I have observed “efficient networkers” who hurry through the room like a busy bumblebee to distribute their name cards. What these people are doing is prospecting, not networking. Big difference!
Self-introduce with panache
I have often been asked to advise on how best to respond to the perennial favorite question, “What do you do?” Generally, this is an invitation to introduce your profession in some detail. It is ideal to keep it between 30-60 seconds. Briefly mention what you do, who you help and the key benefits of your product or service. It is useful to practice this before a networking event and fine-tune it afterwards based on the feedback you received. As you become more skilled at it, you can jazz it up according to your personality.
Exchange name cards
Networking opportunities are everywhere, so be prepared. Place your name cards in a handy card holder instead of rummaging through your bag. The name card is an extension of the person who presents it. When presented with a card, accept it respectfully with both hands and study it thoughtfully. Use this opportunity to ask questions pertaining to the person’s job or business.
Make a connection, not a sale
Another common faux pas is jumping to a sales pitch. This is a networking turn-off! I suggest taking the longer-term view and committing to developing a meaningful relationship. Try to see how you can add value to the people you connect with. That way, they have a reason to reciprocate.
Exit with grace
During the meet-and-greet portion, do what Susan RoAnne calls “Working The Room” – instead of chatting with the same person throughout the event, talk to several. Ending a conversation requires tact – this should be executed politely and smoothly. Try this line: “It’s been nice talking to you. If you’ll excuse me, there’s someone I’d like to say Hello to. Shall we catch up over coffee sometime?”
Follow-up is key
Amateurs think that the networking process ends when the last name card has been exchanged. Far from it! I make it a point to schedule an hour the morning after the networking event to follow up with all the new contacts. Where appropriate, initiate further communication selectively – you could schedule a meeting over coffee or lunch.
Beyond The Handshakes
Whether you are a salaried employee or an entrepreneur, networking is an indispensible skill that gives you the edge over your competitors. Titans of the business world agree that networking is not a luxury but a necessity. Networking is a marketing activity which emphasises long-term, mutually-beneficial relationships. Being sincere, positive and helpful will earn you mileage in terms of people power.
Mervin Yeo, a contributing author in the New York Times Best-Seller “Masters of Networking”, offers training and consulting to business professionals and organisations in Singapore and the region on business networking and strategic referral marketing. He is co-author of “Turning Ideas Into Profit” and author of “Purposeful Networking For Introverts” and “I Can Connect – An Introvert’s Handbook To Stress-Free Networking”. Website: www.mervinyeo.com