Do you enjoy networking? Many business people dread it. They stand around uncomfortably, clutching a drink or hovering near the appetizers, only speaking to people they know.
Is this you? How can you make a better use of networking at events when you are uncomfortable doing so?
Below are 10 networking tips to get you up and mingling, building contacts and developing new business relationships:
1. Dress appropriately. It is easy to feel out of place if you are not dressed correctly for the event. Remember the old adage to dress for success.
2. Be prepared. Bring a lot of business cards to pass out, information about your business and a pen and paper to make notes of people to follow up with.
3. Arrive early. Usually the hosts will come to greet you; then you can confide you don’t know anyone and ask the host if they would introduce you to people. This will help you get acquainted, connect you to the event and give you time to feel more comfortable.
4. Be gracious. Is the group you’re approaching open to you joining the conversation? Be aware of people’s body language. If two people are standing very closely together, face to face, and talking, it is probably a private conversation. If one person is standing more open, come into the open space, make eye contact, wait for a break in the conversation and introduce yourself.
5. It’s not all about you. When you meet someone, ask open ended questions about them and their business, listen and see whether you have anything to offer them. It’s all about connecting and building a relationship. People love to talk about themselves, so always try to find a connection and build on that.
6. Facilitate conversations. Look for people standing by themselves and start a conversation. Most people are actually shy at events, so if you can open up a conversation, you are making things happen for them.
7. Make connections. Introduce people you know to each other. This will help other people build connections and make you a good networker to invite to other events.
8. Mingle. Don’t just make a beeline for potential customers. Talk to a variety of people, including your competition. Networking is an opportunity to meet new people outside your normal circle of life. Remember the law of six degrees of separation.
9. Exit gracefully. When getting ready to move on, shake hands and say, “It has been so nice to spend a few minutes getting to know you” and, if wanting to pursue the relationship at some other point in time, you can say “let’s get together for coffee and discuss this further.” Then move on.
10. Follow up. Did you offer to help someone? Did you want to set up another meeting? Within the next couple of days make a call or send an email to your new contact. Always follow up promptly with any information or to set a time to meet again.
Remember, networking is an art and takes practice. Do not be shy, spread the wealth and leave events with new contacts for your business.
Laura Katz, M.B.A., is a business consultant at the Athens Small Business Development Center, and you may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.