Most people attend networking events to gain something: job leads, referrals, exposure, connections, opportunities to grow their business. They either fit into two groups – those who leave disappointed, dismissing networking as a complete waste of time; and those who walk out with a handful of business cards feeling happy, inspired and excited.
True networking occurs when there’s an understanding that everyone in the room has equal value. In its purest form, it’s about people enjoying other people, communicating passions and connecting with others who share those passions.
It’s about listening, figuring out what others need and connecting them with people you think can help, without any designs for personal gain. The most successful networkers build genuine relationships and give more than they receive. They go beyond thinking, “What’s in it for me?” to ask “How can I help?”
To follow their approach, here are ten ways to network successfully and have fun doing it:
If you are having a busy day before going to a business meeting, keep a change of clothes in your office or car so you can walk in unwrinkled. You don’t necessarily need to wear a corporate suit, but try to avoid keeping it too casual. Ripped jeans, whilst certainly a “modern street” style, looks tacky and unwanted at networking events. You may also want to leave your “iPood” t-shirt at home too.
Seasoned networkers can smell the stench of desperation from across the room. People can sense when someone is only out to help himself. Tip-offs ranging from a panicked look in the eyes to a portfolio brimming with resumes will send them running in the other direction. On the other hand, by networking when you have no ulterior motive, you can begin to build relationships and a reputation for being generous rather than self-serving.
We’re all more likely to retain information that we see and hear at the same time, so wear your name tag up on your right shoulder. That way, people can read it as they hear you say your name. Some women put their name tags down on their handbags or in the most inappropriate places. Put it where people are not afraid to look!
Since every person has value, it’s essential that you know what yours is. Before you attend any networking event, get clear on what talents, strengths, skill sets and connections you can bring to the table. Map out what you want to talk about, particularly how you may be able to help other people, either now or in the future.
While you may be tempted to network just to land a job or talk to people you normally wouldn’t have access to, that’s a mistake. Instead, make it your goal to be open, friendly and honest, and to forge connections between people who may be able to help each other. Generosity is an attractive quality and it’s something special that people will remember about you.
Make it your mission to discover the value in each person you talk to. Ask questions and listen with interest. Don’t make the mistake of discounting people due to their titles. Someone you meet may “just” be a assistant, but they may have valuable connections or knowledge you’d never learn about if you’d dismissed them.
Don’t ignore people you recognise if you’ve forgotten their name. Smile and ask a provocative question like, “What is the most exciting thing that has happened to you since we last met?” or “What is your greatest recent success?” or “What are you most looking forward to?” And never be afraid to say, “The last time we met, we had such a great conversation. Will you remind me what your name is?”
Once you begin to listen to people and learn what they can bring to the table, you’ll start realising how one person in the room may be able to help another. Make it a point to connect people you feel have something of genuine value to each other. When you go out of your way to make those potentially promising connections, you’re doing your part to make the networking event a success.
Before any conversation comes to a close, be sure to ask, “How can I help you?” Because it’s done so rarely, you may encounter a surprised look, but it will most likely be accompanied by an appreciative smile. While the person may not have an answer for you that night, they may have an idea later. Always close by saying something like, “If you need anything, please reach out to me or connect via LinkedIn” and present your business card.
If you told someone you’d get in touch with them, do it and reaffirm your intent to assist in any way you can. If you promised to introduce someone to a person you know, take the time to do it. Everyone is busy these days with jobs, families, events, commitments — even so, it takes no more than a minute to shoot off an email to introduce two people you want to connect. They can take it from there and do the work — enjoy being the bridge. Little things like that mean a lot to people and just one introduction can end up changing someone’s life for the better.
These are all positive, pleasant, easy ways to make the most out of a networking event – all help make you more memorable. If people remember you, they’ll remember your business and what you do.
This article was first written for the British-Estonian Chamber of Commerce.