I attend a lot of networking events as a young entrepreneur. Most of them are local networking events that I think might be good exposure for me.
There is a time and place for cold calling or pressure pitching, but effective networking involves so much more than trying to perfect your sales pitch or make your next sale in a room full of other business people.
Networking is all about building real-life relationships and creating credibility in the brand of you! Social networking is all well and good, but real-world networking is still the real king... at least for a little while longer.
So, if you are someone who is always looking to learn more, meet new people and build your personal network, then here are 12 tips that are field-tested and battle-approved to help you generate more leads at your next networking event:
1. Work the room
I know firsthand how cliquey these things can get, so make sure you aren't just showing up to talk to friends.
Move from conversation to conversation and group to group in order to meet as many new people as possible. I'm not saying you can't stop to chat with friends, clients and other familiar faces, but you should make sure to introduce yourself to a few new people at each event and make it around the whole room at least once.
2. Quit selling for a few hours
It wont take long for people to start avoiding you if you go to networking events intending to sell to every person with whom you talk. Make it a point to get to know people and discover what they do.
Be sure to ask questions, as people love to talk about themselves. There's no better way to make a five-minute friend than to let someone tell you everything about what he or she does.
3. Set a goal
Before the event, you should have an idea in your mind about how many new people you want to talk to, but be realistic.
Under no circumstances should you be walking around, randomly handing cards to everyone you see. Maybe meeting one person is an accomplishment for you. Good. Now you know. Start there and then work your way up as your networking ninja skills start to progress.
4. Talk to a stranger
Don't be afraid to approach and talk to a random stranger. Introduce yourself to someone new or pull someone into your group conversation. A friendly gesture like this goes a long way in the new person's eyes and is a signal of leadership to those around you.
5. Sometimes, one is plenty
Just because you have a plan to meet a few new people doesn't mean that if you meet one top-level prospect, you have to disengage in order to continue networking.
You should continue every potentially valuable conversation, even if that means chatting for the entire event. You never know when you will hit it off with your next new client, referral source or, heck, maybe even a new friend.
6. Keep a hit list
You should always have a number of top prospects in mind and know what they look like in case you get a chance to rub elbows at a networking event. I'm not telling you to stalk anyone — that would be weird. However, you won't find a much better setting to approach someone you are interested in meeting than at an event where people are supposed to meet other people.
It is especially valuable if you have tried to reach out and contact them before. Maybe you have tried the old-school, unannounced office visit, lead letter, email or a phone call to no avail. The networking event is a perfect setting to ensure that your next call gets answered.
7. Break up a clique
Don't be afraid to approach the person to whom you want to introduce yourself, even if he or she is in a group, talking to other people. I'm not suggesting you to walk up and interrupt, but it would not be out of line for you to walk up, join the conversation circle and, when appropriate, introduce yourself.
8. Don't be afraid to excuse yourself
If you are talking to someone and feel that the conversation is going nowhere or does not give you the opportunity to interject, don't hesitate to excuse yourself and move on to the next conversation. After all, not everyone whom you want to meet wants to meet you, especially if he or she is engaged in an intense conversation or is chatting up a person on his or her hit list.
There is no reason to stand around in a group of people trying to meet someone if he or she is intentionally ignoring you or leaving you out of the conversation. Walk away and meet someone else, but don't give up; you might have to find a better time to approach.
9. To drink or not to drink?
Me? I like to enjoy a brew almost anywhere, especially after work at a social networking event. There is nothing wrong with having a couple of drinks, but make sure you don't cross the line. (You know the line to which I am referring.)
Take it from a guy who has made that mistake; try not to make an idiot of yourself in front of all of these new people you worked so hard to meet.
10. Be selective
There is such a thing as a serial networker.
You can easily fill your entire calendar with any number of networking groups, breakfast clubs, networking lunches and after-hours events. It's okay to explore different networking opportunities, but focus your attention on the ones that actually give you an opportunity to network with people who can increase your overall influence and social reach.
11. Know the staff
Get to know the people who organize the events: the chamber staff, the committee volunteers, board members or anyone else. They will be invaluable to you if you decide to get more involved or ever have any questions at an event. They are always willing to help, and they usually know everyone in the room.
Also, this will help you when they are sitting around, deciding which pictures to include in the monthly newsletter, magazine or Facebook page!
12. Follow up
Always make sure you follow up with any prospect you met at a networking event. There's a reason your contact information is on a business card, after all.
Be sure to send personalized emails or handwritten notes to everyone you met. Include anything spoken about and an invitation to meet for coffee or lunch. Close the message with a link to your website or a recent article from your blog and take it from there.
Under no circumstances does meeting someone at a networking event and getting an email address from a business card authorize you to add a person to your email lists.
There is no better way to ensure that your email will be ignored than if you immediately start spamming someone. Just be yourself; have fun and don't be shy. Think of it like this: You are actually doing someone a favor by approaching him or her because it saves him or her the trouble of having to come to you.
Photo Courtesy: USA/Suits