I bet some people who knew me when I was younger would be amazed that I really love networking – and get most of my business that way. Back then, I was much too shy to introduce myself to a stranger.
Many years ago, I went to my first networking meeting. I walked in terrified of the room full of strangers. I went to the bar, got a drink, and I clearly remember thinking to myself: if no one talks to me by the time I finish this drink, I’m out of here. It didn’t occur to me that I would ever be able to take charge and initiate a conversation with a stranger.
So how can we get from there to here? Here are 16 tips that have helped me to not only survive but to actually look forward to my networking meetings.
- Prepare! Before you go, try to find out how people typically dress for that specific meeting. The last thing you want to do is feel insecure about being under- or over-dressed.
- Get a stack of business cards so you can share them with people you have a nice conversation with. But don’t be that person who just forces the cards on every person they see.
- Practice your “elevator pitch” until you can say it smoothly. This is what you’d say if you’re on a quick elevator ride and someone asks you what you do. Make it interesting, but not cheesy. Practice, practice, practice. One key to being effective and comfortable is to be able to answer “What do you do” smoothly and conversationally.
- Ask questions of the people you meet. “What do you do?” “What brings you here?” “How long have you been a member?” Then, ask follow-up questions to their answers.
- Join Toastmasters International. Last edition’s article talks about that in more detail.
- Act like a host – appoint yourself to welcome newcomers. Everyone loves to feel welcomed.
- Greet and start a conversation with someone standing alone. Assume that they are shy and uncomfortable too and will be relieved to have a friendly face approach them.
- Learn how to read the body language and find the right time to break into a conversation. If two people are directly facing each other, and off to the side of the room, they’re probably having an important conversation and don’t want to be interrupted. But if there is a larger group, or two people standing side-by-side, facing towards the room, they’re welcoming more people into the conversation.
- Go with a buddy, but be sure to work on meeting new people. If you find yourself in conversation with your buddy, follow the last point and make sure you’re both standing in a way that invites others to join in.
- Meet people by the food table or the bar – it’s an automatic conversation starter.
- Introduce new acquaintances to others they might share mutual interests with.
- Work the registration table – shy people often do much better when they have an “official” duty.
- Go easy on your goals. Make a goal to meet new people, not necessarily to close business.
- Resist the temptation to stand in the corner looking at your phone. That’s a “leave me alone” sign.
- “Make friends first and the business will follow.” This is the slogan of some of my networking groups, and it is so very true.
- Follow up with people you meet to reinforce the relationship. This sounds like a topic for another article. One of my summer goals is to create a follow-up plan for networking, and I’ll share it with my subscribers when it’s ready.
Networking doesn’t have to be scary. Practice these tips and you’ll start seeing friends everywhere you go. After a while, instead of walking into a room of strangers, you’ll find yourself visiting old friends.