We’ve all seen them, those people at networking events who cruise the room telling everyone how brilliant they are. Instead of listening, they’re waiting for their turn to speak so they can continue telling you how wonderful they are.
They’re hunters. They see the room as a pond full of prey for the taking. They’ll search for the weakest looking fish and pounce. They hand out business cards as if they’re firing crossbow bolts.
Farmers, on the other hand, approach the field with a wide viewpoint, looking for the crops that are ready to harvest and those that need tending to. They are looking to nurture and develop future relationships and they know a little TLC produces a strong harvest in the future. They spend time tending to the shoots and they never pluck the fruit until it’s ripe.
Networking events, whether formal or informal, are a great way to make connections. We know that word of mouth is the most powerful way to market your business, but for people to talk about you, they need to meet you.
Scared of striking up a conversation? Remind yourself, everyone in that room is scared on some level, some of them are just better at using business camouflage. The most cocky and confident in the room are probably hunters – don’t be intimidated, they’ll be remembered for the wrong reasons.
Until you start talking to people you’ll never find out who is interesting and who they know. Often, it’s not your new contact that helps but people they know and unless you’ve built up a rapport with them, why would they want you in their inner circle?
Being an introvert can actually be an advantage in a networking situation.
Introverts like their own company, every conversation is a new environment. Once they pluck up the courage to step out of their comfort zones long enough to be in a conversation, that conversation becomes their new comfort zone. They linger there, building stronger and more satisfying relationships.
Social butterflies are not necessarily good networkers. They might meet every person in the room and leave with a fist full of business cards but as soon as they’re gone they’ll have forgotten who they spoke to.
A farmer is skilled at identifying when it’s safe to approach a flock.
In a networking situation, the same applies. Look for people with open body language, if they are facing outwards they are receptive to being approached. If there are two people talking but they are not directly facing each other, they are happy for others to join the conversation. Sometimes joining an existing conversation and listening in for a moment is a good way to get started, it takes the pressure off starting the conversation and thinking of something to say.
Look for people who are on their own. You’ll probably find them at the buffet table, we often retreat to a distraction such as food or drink to hide our fear.
If someone is on their own, the chances are they are more scared than you and will appreciate your company.
The fear we feel is often a result of feeling out of control in the situation. To feel more in control, go in prepared.
Top networking tips
Here are my 9 top tips:
- Think about what you’d like to achieve. Jot your ideas down or do a mind map to stop it swirling around in your head.
- Have a goal – for example: ‘I’d like to walk away with 1 warm lead’ – or it could be a small step: ‘I will start a conversation’.
- Make sure you have plenty of business cards. A note book and pen is also handy in case you meet someone who doesn’t have a card or if there’s a useful link or contact to follow up.
- Prepare a spiel for yourself, sum up what you do in a short sentence and have answers prepared for any questions that may follow.
- Make notes on the back of business cards you get to remind you who they were and where you met them. It could be weeks or months before that connection is useful and if you can place someone in a context it’s much easier to make contact. For example; ‘Hi, it’s such and such, we met at X event’.
- The best piece of advice my mum ever gave me: treat others how you’d wish to be treated yourself. Always be friendly and respectful, you never know when someone might come back into your life. Don’t burn the bridge before it’s built.
- If you go with someone you know, make a conscious effort not to speak only
to them. You’re there to make new connections, not hang out with your friend.
- Be yourself. You don’t have to be formal, in fact, people are more likely to warm to you if you’re friendly and genuine. Always remember, perfection is a fallacy – aim for ‘good enough’.
- Enjoy it! You never know who will be there, be bold, smile and behave confidently, you might just surprise yourself.
No one goes to a networking event to buy things, so why waste time trying to sell? You’re not there to shoot down your prey so you can drag it back to your cave.
Be helpful and generous, be nurturing like a farmer and sooner or later the seeds you sew will bloom.