Quality Over Quantity - Best Tips for Networking Events
How to Be a Networking Star
When we exhibited at the 2016 Atlanta Small Business Expo, we had asked attendees, “If you could send a voicemail to your former self, what would you say?” We heard a lot of interesting answers. People gave themselves “voicemails” full of good advice and strong direction to help them get through those challenging early stages of their careers. They also included tips that would help their small businesses flourish. Hear the inspiring “voicemails” in this short video.
Since the Small Business Expo is deemed “Atlanta’s biggest business networking event of the year,” we wanted to do a deeper dive into the subject of networking. We all know that it is a critical part of growing a small business. In fact, our video shows one small business owner who gave his former self the following words of wisdom: “Network a heck of a lot. Network like crazy.”
That’s excellent advice! But to “network like crazy” you’ll want to make the most out of networking events, and focus on quality. Here are some tips and tricks to make it happen:
Choose events strategically
Avoid networking for networking’s sake. Going to tons of networking events can be overwhelming and stressful. Think about your business goals and carefully choose the events that have the best potential to support your end-game. Think creatively, as there may be some conferences outside the norm that can expand your network in a new way. How to decide? Look at the attendees and exhibitors to see if some individuals or businesses are beneficial to you or your company’s mission. Also, go to events that have designated times for networking. Even if you consider yourself introverted, events that include networking in the agenda helps all attendees feel more empowered and inspired to connect.
We all want to avoid awkward interactions. Looking at your smartphone and hanging out only with those you already know will not help you get “out there.” Sure, leaving your comfort zone can be a little scary, but the risk is worth the reward. Try these tips to make the process of networking less intimidating:
- Do your homework - Before you arrive, read up on current news and events to find interesting things to help break the ice. This helps you have topics to start conversations, as well as give you fodder for contributing to conversations.
- Grab food or a drink - Striking up a conversation in the food or drink lines is often more natural and comfortable. Scout out a table where someone is sitting alone, and ask if you can join them. They’ll be thankful for the company.
- Read body language - Look around the room to read the crowd. If a group is talking in a closed circle, leave them be. If you see two people standing side-by-side and facing outward, approach them. They’ll be more open to having a conversation.
- Know you’re not the only one - Keep in mind that almost everyone in the room is as uncomfortable as you are. Use your anxiety as fuel to go about helping others feel less uneasy. You’ll make yourself feel better in the process.
- Smile - A genuine smile can instantly put you and others at ease. A cheerful “hello!” accompanied with a bright smile creates a new level of comfort between strangers, and a great way to start a conversation. “Wow, I don’t know a soul here!” - This is a good conversation starter too, especially with someone who’s by themselves. More often than not, their response will be “Me either!” It’s a nice segway to an introduction.
- Know when to go - There comes a natural point in a conversation for it to end. Rather than stick around too long (due to comfort), recognize that point, thank the person for the chat, exchange cards and move on. (Get tips for having the a memorable business card here.)
- What’s the worst that can happen? - Remind yourself that you’re all adults. Mature adults will not ridicule you. The worst that can happen is that you don’t make a connection, which is no big deal.
Remember: It’s not about what you want
Networking is not a game to see how many business cards you can collect or give out. It’s not about how many sales leads you get or products you sell. Networking gives you an an opportunity to meet new people, and build authentic, mutually beneficial relationships. The key phrase here is “mutually beneficial.”
Focus on quality, not quantity. Chat with one or two people at a time for a deeper, more engaged conversation. To make your interactions seem less forced or weird, always be thinking about how you can help people, even it if is simply introducing yourself to someone who is by themselves. Be the hero.
People love to talk about themselves, so let them speak–while you listen. Make a conscious effort to stay completely engaged in the conversation. Maintain eye contact and avoid looking over a person’s shoulder for someone “more important” to talk to!
Even if what a person is saying resonates with you so deeply, let them speak. Don’t jump in and talk over someone, finish their sentences, or cut them off. Bite your tongue, let them share, and listen for opportunities or ways that you can provide value in a way that compliments the conversation, not hijacks it.
Follow up fast, then again and again
Be timely in your follow-ups. Gain trust and respect from your new connections by keeping your word. If you said that you plan to phone them next week, do so. If you said you were going to send them a great book, make it a priority. Personalize all of your follow-up correspondence with references to things you discussed. And don’t let it end there. Continue following up with things your new connections would genuinely like, such as an interesting article or new information that would be intriguing to them. You’ll soon find that nurturing your new connections in this way will result in a fantastic return on your investment in time and effort.
One last point of note – the more networking you do, the less intimidating it becomes. If you’re ready to test out your new skills, make plans to come visit us at the Atlanta Small Business Expo in November 2017. Better yet, let’s get a headstart with a conversation on Facebook or Twitter. See you in November!