7 tips for great business networking
Do your homework and be prepared
If you can see who’s attending before you get to an event it’s definitely worth investing some time in doing your homework and making connections. This might be ensuring your profile is completed if the organisers are using an event app, or connecting with delegates via LinkedIn if you’re able to see a list of attendees.
Find out if there's a hashtag for the event and tweet about your attendance in the days before and on the morning of an event. See who else is talking about the event on social media too and make your connections there on Twitter or Instagram.
And don’t forget to ensure you take plenty of business cards. Put them in your briefcase, your jacket pocket, your handbag, your phone case – everywhere so that whenever you need one it’s accessible, in good condition and you look professional as you pass it over rather than scrabbling about in your bag for a tatty card.
Arrive early to meet new people
If you’re a bit nervous about networking and walking into a room packed full of strangers, it’s always better to arrive early so you can talk to people gradually as they arrive. This is much easier than trying to break your way into already established groups who are talking.
It's sometimes worth taking your time to find and introduce yourself to the event organiser too, as they may be able to make introductions for you.
Set realistic targets
Don’t be too ambitious about the number of connections you might make at an event.
Five strong connections, where you’ve had a productive conversation, will be much more more valuable for the future than the 25 business cards you managed to thrust into peoples’ hands.
Think about what you're going to say
Forget the full sales pitch and keep your conversation light and informal.
People buy people and want to work with people they like. As humans we bond through shared experiences. No need to be best friends, but no one wants to be sold to when they are queueing for a coffee.
That said, it’s worth preparing what you’ll say when people ask ‘how’s business?’ or ‘what are you working on right now? or ‘what do you do?’
Be passionate about your business, you’ll leave a lasting impression.
Ask questions and listen
Always ask plenty questions and give people time to tell you about their business and themselves. Think about how you might be able to help them. Can you make an introduction or share some useful information?
Whilst you’re talking to a new connection be sure to maintain eye contact and give them your full, undivided attention. If you’re in a room full of other interesting people it can be tempting to look over someone’s shoulder to catch the eye of another delegate you might know. Don’t do it.
Just keep smiling
Even when you are feeling nervous (and remember that lots of people in the room will be feeling nervous too) keep smiling. This will help put you more at ease and you'll appear warm and inviting for others to approach.
Have a solid, sincere handshake and maintain eye contact as you meet people for the first time too.
Follow up promptly
Networking is where the conversation should begin – not end.
If you’ve had a good conversation be sure to ask how you can stay in touch via email, LinkedIn etc. Find them on twitter if you can too.
Try to follow up and make contact (perhaps sharing something useful) within 48 hours of the event.
Sometimes it can help if you make a quick note on the back of a business card to remind yourself what you said you’d do for a person or send yourself a quick email reminder.
Good luck – and if you’re at one of these events this month, please come and say hello.