Every event or gathering you attend is an opportunity to grow your business or advance your career. Be ready to maximize the opportunity.
Have a plan – ask yourself; what do I want to accomplish at this event? Who do I need to meet? How can I help them? What am I going to talk about? Do some reconnaissance, find out who is on the guest list with you and do a little research about them.
Passive networking takes the pressure off everyone; Do more listening than speaking until you understand the room’s dynamics. Identify the individuals you need to meet and visit with. Do not hard sell anyone at a social gathering. Discover what you can do for them, be prepared to introduce them to other people in the room who can help them, set yourself apart by facilitating successful networking opportunities for them.
Don’t forget your business card; In a one on one meeting your business card is an excellent tool to provide immediate information and gather follow up contact information for your own use. Be sure your business (or calling card) is easy to read, has your name, title, company name, contact information (including email and website) and an enticing tag line or interesting factoid to set you apart from others. Also, make sure your card can be read in a low light setting; social gatherings are not always lit well.
Name tag (if you are wearing one); if you are writing your own name on a tag be sure it is legible and large enough to be easily read. Place it on the right side of your chest this way when you extend your right hand to shake hands the person will be able to easily read your nametag. If wearing a lanyard with a name badge; tie a knot in it to pull it higher on your chest for easy reading.
Have an “Elevator” introduction ready; a simple (15 to 20 seconds) introduction that establishes your credentials and creates a unique impression is important. Something along the lines of; “Hi, I’m Chip Massie, Executive Director of the Klamath County Chamber of Commerce. We’ve been representing business interests in our community for more than 105 years. My job requires me to attend events like this and learn from you how we can help our members improve their business success.”
Be ready with appropriate stories you can share; Be prepared with stories or comments that are appropriate for the group you are socializing with. What’s been happening in the local news? What events are coming up that are interesting? Keep the conversation positive and focused on something of interest to the group at large, stay away from potentially controversial subjects.
Manage your food and drink; be ready to shake hands as needed. Do one thing at a time, eat or drink, so you can keep one hand free. Get used to holding drinks or food in the left hand. Remove and properly dispose of straws, garnishes or umbrellas from your drink; they are accidents waiting to happen. Wait until you have done most of your networking before joining the buffet line or filling a plate with appetizers.
Do not overindulge! Especially in the cocktail hour. Business dinners, social gatherings, fund-raisers, and dining events take time – pace your self. Trade off between adult beverages and soft drinks – or don’t drink adult beverages at the cocktail event and save room for wine and a nightcap. Be sure you have accomplished your networking goals before imbibing in adult beverages and never allow yourself to be over-served alcohol in a networking or business situation.
Bring a guest; if allowed, it’s a good idea to bring a guest. Someone who can help you remember names, introduce you to people, and identify folks in the room you should meet. When sitting down for dinner be sure your guest sits a seat or two away from you so you can both socialize with different people and maximize the number of contacts you can make.
After the event; follow-up is important and the only way to develop lasting new relationships. First thing, be reliable. If, in conversation, you say you’ll do something – do it. Send a note, make a call or email (when appropriate) to tell them how much you enjoyed the meeting and look forward to helping them in the future.
This is not a comprehensive list of does and don’ts, but it will give you a strategy to work with and help you make the most of a networking event. Remember – all events are networking events!