Business networking events can be nerve-wracking affairs if you don’t enter with a strategy in mind. Luckily, we present these five easy ways to stop hating business networking events so you’ll always be ready to face them with dignity and, of course, charm.
First of all, we don’t really recommend business networking events, because there are so many more effective ways you can meet people you might want to do business with — but sometimes you just wind up at one of these rubber chicken and cocktails business networking events despite your best efforts. Honestly, nobody wants to get roped into going to the business equivalent of a desperate singles mixer. But if you find yourself obligated to attend one, make the most of it. Here are five tips you can use to meet and connect with people in a meaningful way and come away with something much better than a pocketful of business cards.
Tip #1: Networking Is All in the Preparation
What you do before you even walk into the room will determine how you walk out. There’s some preparation you can do to make sure you make the most of your mix and mingle time. What’s that preparation look like, other than dressing for success?
- Perfect your elevator pitch. You want to be prepared when it’s your turn at the microphone if the event features a segment where everyone introduces themselves.
- Know your goals. Get clear on what you’d like to accomplish there. Getting a grip on your goals is important so you can go to the event strategically and find what you’re looking for out of the event.
- Be a giver, first. This sure beats trying to get something from the other people there — and coming in with a giving mindset will set you apart from the crowd. Most everyone else is looking for what they can get: business cards, connections, even closing deals on the spot. So, if you go looking to give instead, you’ll set others at ease and ultimately find more opportunities.
- Do your research. Is there someone specific you’d like to meet who’s attending or presenting at this event? Hop on Google and LinkedIn to do a little recon before you go. Get a better understanding of who they are, what projects they’re working on, and what they’re interested in and you’ll go in armed with valuable information. By doing your homework first, you’ll find it a lot easier to have good conversations because you’ll be giving value first when you introduce yourself.
Tip #2: Let’s Get Ready to Rumble! (Er…Mingle)
Just like in social situations, when you get to a business networking event, you want to enter like a boss. It’s all about location, location, location. So pick a high-traffic spot that’s well-lit so people can see you. You’ll be perfectly positioned to chat with people as they walk by.
Make yourself approachable in the usual ways. Stand in the right place and use good body language to project warmth. This comes from making eye contact and smiling, especially with people you’re interested in meeting. If you’ve identified them and want to meet and talk with them, just glance in their direction and make eye contact before walking over there. This will make you more visible and approachable, and you may be surprised to find they come over and talk with you.
Pro Tip: Watch Your Posture…Especially Your Hands
Aim for relaxed, open body posture. This means your arms hang comfortably at your side rather than crossed in front of you. When we’re nervous, we instinctively tighten up and guard our organs — an unapproachable stance. So be sure to keep your hands by your side.
Sipping a cocktail? The rule still applies! Don’t hold it in front of you — just hold it by your side.
Tip #3: Aim Small
Most of us, when we go to a networking event, come home with 20 business cards — a veritable phone book full of numbers. But honestly, you’re not going to be able to follow up in a meaningful way with all those people. It’s far more effective to start small and make just a couple of good connections while you’re there rather than running around the room trying to gather everyone’s phone number. Going big like that will prevent you from standing out or making a connection with anyone.
Keep in mind that the connections you make in person will make following up later a lot easier because you’ll make a better and more memorable impression. Choose having a couple of meaningful conversations rather than rushing through the room. Remember, the key to successful networking events is the follow-up. What you do with that phone number means everything. If you collect more phone numbers than you can follow up with meaningfully, you’ll waste your time and theirs.
Tip #4: Don’t Go for the Close
The natural tendency is to get excited about what you’re doing and try to close the deal on the spot. “Are you ready to buy? Want to invest? Do ya? Do ya?” Don’t do that.
Networking events are not for closing — they’re for opening. This is your opportunity to plant seeds that could grow into a good relationship if you “water” it by following up afterward.
Going to an event with the goals of making sales and signing investors is a major turnoff and will push people away. In fact, your only job there is to make connections. Keep it light and fun. That way, when you make the follow up call, they’ll remember you and want to hang out with you again. You were that fun guy or girl who was interested in learning about them, not the pushy one who smothered them and demanded a buying decision on the spot.
We want to make sure they’ll look forward to spending time with us in the future rather than dreading it. Don’t make them search for your off button, desperately trying to get you to stop talking about yourself. Nobody likes to be around someone who’s pushy — especially when they’re just trying to relax a little and chat with people. You’ll get there eventually — especially if you make it fun for people to be around you. Aim for soft connections, and nurture them after the event. Don’t try to force it.
Tip #5: Remember the 3D Plan
It’s a given — people will ask the old fallback question everyone asks at these events: “What do you do?”
You could do what everyone else does and just answer the question. Or, you could do something guaranteed to leave people thinking you’re a brilliant conversationalist. You could follow the 3D plan: Defer, Deflect, Disclose.
- Defer: Instead of firing off an answer to look important, maybe go another way with that question and answer, “Eh, it’s not that exciting. What is it you do?” The simple act of taking an interest in the other person will make you far more interesting. Counter-intuitive, but true. Let them say what they do first.
- Deflect: If they ask again, deflect the question. You could even make it a little silly by taking what you do and then over-simplify and exaggerate it. Let’s say you’re a pilot — you could say, “I help keep planes in the air.” If you’re a cardiologist, you could say, “I fix hearts.” It’s the same thing, really, but this answer will draw people in and make them curious about finding out more about you instead of conveying an “I’m sooooo important” vibe.
- Disclose: If they push you multiple times about what you do, go ahead and tell them. The air of mystery from the first two Ds will help you stand out and be memorable, which is what networking is all about. When someone goes to a networking event and meets 30 people, they’re only going to follow up with the people who stood out and were memorable.
Quality networkers take an interest in other people. They’re listening, engaged, and trying to figure out how they can help other people. That’s how they stand out — and that’s how you can make these merchant “meet” markets a worthwhile experience.