Working the Room: How to Be a Better Networker
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Working the Room: How to Be a Better Networker
By Karen Love
Are you getting results from your networking? Equipped with a plan, conversation points and some basic techniques, you can feel more at ease in a crowd and make a memorable impression on everyone you meet. The benefits may not appear right away, but they will materialize if you are deliberate about making yourself visible and helpful.
The real purpose of networking
While more business people are using social media to connect and stay in touch, these tools are no substitute for face-to-face communication. By learning the basics, you can turn a business lunch, a fundraiser gala, a conference, a baseball game or any other gathering of people into a valuable networking occasion.
The best networkers don’t expect to sign up clients on the spot. No one wants to be confronted with a sales pitch. But everyone likes to have someone show an interest in them. So network to discover what you can do for someone else. If you handle networking right, you will have lots of opportunities to interact with them later.
Before you go
Always have an ample supply of business cards. Your card should include all the ways to connect with you and your company, including email address, website, blog and other social media.
Who will be there? If you can get an advance copy of the attendee list, use it to decide who you want to meet.
Know what the event attire will be. Wear something suitable that gives you easy access to your business cards. Wear comfortable shoes.
Have a snack before you go, so that you can circulate and shake hands without having to juggle a drink and a plate.
Practice your handshake. It should be firm, confident, and accompanied by a smile and eye contact.
Practice your answers to the questions “What do you do?” and “What does your company do?” For example, I direct our firm’s practice growth area, but when I introduce myself I might use a phrase from my Twitter profile: “I am a change agent in a green eyeshade world,” which is a good conversation starter.
Be able to describe your company’s service focus or niche in a conversational style, so it doesn’t sound like you’re reciting a mission statement. Brush up on current events. Scan the headlines for interesting and important news so you can join in the conversation. Have a few lead-in questions ready. Plan to ask people what attracted them to the event, what the most challenging part of their job is right now, or what their dream client would be.
Go for the goal
Approach every networking event with specific goals. For example, you want to make five new contacts or meet three people in a certain type of business. If you are looking for prospective employees or vendors, make that a goal. Keep your goal in mind throughout the event.
At the event
First of all, silence any mobile device you carry, so it won’t distract you or others. Arrive early. If you don’t know who is coming, scan the nametags at the check-in table. Let the host know if you are hoping to meet a certain person and ask them to introduce you. Stand near the entry area and greet people as they come in.
Once inside, look for “wallflowers” who look uncomfortable in the situation. Engage them in light conversation and help them feel more at ease. If you attend with a group, split up and move around the room separately. At a table, position yourself around people you don’t know well. Use the double-teaming technique. Ask another attendee their goals for the event, and let them know who or what you’re on the lookout for. Circulate on opposite sides of the room, and when you make a connection that might benefit your fellow attendee, make the introductions. Listen more than you talk. When you ask someone a question, pay attention to their answer. If they mention something they need or would like to find, make a note of it. Collect business cards from everyone you meet. Write the event and date and any action items on the back for follow-up when you get back to your office.
Keep the networking going
There’s little value in networking without follow-up. Using the business cards you collect, send personal notes or emails. Follow through on any action items. Then stay in touch. Invite your new contacts to another event. Send them articles of interest. Add them to your contact database. Invite them to connect on LinkedIn. Watch for news about their business, promotions, new jobs or awards and send a note of congratulations. Most importantly, connect them with others in as many ways as you can.
So how does networking lead to bringing in new business? When does the selling part come in? If you have networked in the right way, people have gotten to know you and what you and your firm can do for them. When they are ready to become a client, you won’t need to do any selling at all.
At PKF Texas, we hold a “B4UGo” (Before You Go) session for our employees to equip them for networking. We talk about what we expect our team members to accomplish at a particular meeting or event. We expect them to report back on their successes, and to follow through on commitments and contacts they make. We even have a “report card” to help people assess their networking progress. It includes yes-or-no questions like “I started a conversation with someone I didn’t know.”
Social media adds another dimension to networking. Use it to draw extra attention to your company’s participation in face-to-face activities if you know your audience communicates via social media.
For example, PKF Texas was a sponsor for a large festival that attracts music, film and interactive media companies and fans—big users of social media. We sent a team from our firm, who circulated throughout the event. We equipped them with special business cards that listed our social media connection information as well as our technology credentials. We used our website, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, as well as traditional media channels, to tell the unusual story of why an accounting firm would choose to participate in the festival. The result was great buzz about the company before, during and after the event. That recognition, down the line, will translate into new business.