While I usually write about simplifying seemingly complicated technology issues, today I thought I’d tackle an issue that is near and dear to many business people’s hearts (even if we don’t want to admit it out loud) — jumping into a room full of people to network.
You know it well. You arrive to a room already buzzing with energy. People are talking and laughing. Business cards are being offered and accepted. To most of us, the thought of mixing in with this is daunting. Where do we fit in? Who would want to talk to us? They all look busy.
The truth is, of course, they’re busy because they’re networking. This is why they’ve come to this event. They probably had to take a deep breath and dive in too (no, really).
The best piece of networking advice I’ve ever received is “Walk up to someone — you’ll be doing THEM a favour”. It’s true. Don’t you feel better when some brave soul approaches you and lets you off the hook? Be helpful; do the same for someone else. Not only will you feel altruistic but you’ll actually get some networking done!
But, wait. What happens once you’ve walked up, caught their eye, and introduced yourself? Here are some tips:
- Read the paper — No, not instead of networking (but wouldn’t that be nice?) Read the paper or another form of news before you go to the event. Having some knowledge of current events will give you a good source of ice-breaking small talk.
- Ask them about what they do — Listen to what they say and ask a question or two.
- Offer a business card — After a few minutes, simply say, “Let me give you my business card.” They’re not going to say no. If they don’t offer you one, ask for it. Nervous people don’t remember about business cards.
Networking means talking to several people to build your contacts. Sticking with one person isn’t getting the job done. So, after you’ve learned about this person’s business and have told them about what you do (and exchanged cards), exit the conversation gracefully.
How? Just mention that it’s been great to meet them and that you don’t want to hold them up from meeting even more people. If it’s appropriate, you can top it off with a sincere, “I’ll keep you in mind and maybe we’ll bump into one another again sometime.”
You’ve just increased your contact list, your confidence, and learned about someone who may be able to help you in the future. Good job! And remember, practice makes perfect. Adding networking to your marketing calendar more often will make it easier and you’ll soon find ways of making better connections with complete strangers!