by Patti Wilson
Nov 21 2016
Networking is about pursuing opportunities to meet and build new relationships. With the advent of social media we have all become “armchair networkers.” There is less motivation to meet in person with anybody. That is unfortunate, as in-person networking is the best dress rehearsal for interviewing. Further, people you meet in-person are easier to cultivate afterwards into a substantial business relationship.
Given that career success is based on not just on who you know, but who you get to know, building a network is a lifelong endeavor. To facilitate your efforts, here are some in-person networking tips formatted for attending a talk, but they can easily be modified to accommodate a sit down dinner or a trade show.
Prepare in Advance
- Determine your goals and outcomes for attending. Why are you going? How would you measure successful results? The quality connections? Your own visibility to as broad a range of attendees as possible?
- Research the organization holding the event, the speakers, and, of course, the topic. Be prepared to chat favorably about any of them at length.
- The topic is especially important because most are attending because of their interest in it. Your knowledgeability will be of value.
- Contact the speakers and let them know who you are and how you are looking forward to meeting and hearing them at the event. Yes, this takes a little audaciousness, but people love to be flattered, so you should be well received.
- Contact the event organizers. Introduce yourself, and let them know you are interested in their organization and attending their event. They, of course, will try to sell you on membership and/or encourage you to attend.
- Prepare your self-introduction built on your brand identity. Use your Linkedin Summary written in 1st person and paraphrase it. You may know your brand, but practice your delivery of a compelling, brief, well-branded pitch. Get help doing this.
At the Event
- Arrive early. When arriving on-time or late, you face an over-busy registration desk, and a sea of faces and name badges. It is overwhelming, if not impossible, to pick out the prize contacts to meet.
- Arriving early, re-introduce yourself to the event organizers, and offer to help. Build a rapport with the organizers, who hopefully will include you in introductions to key attendees as they arrive.
- Stay by the entry and registration desk early on to connect name badges with faces. If possible, preview the attendee list at the desk. Note prime contacts names to track down later.
- Wander around the room looking for groups to approach. Find congregations of odd numbers (three and five), as those configurations are most easily approachable. Just walk up and square the triangle or complete the hexagon.
- The hardest group and conversation to break away from is with one person. They tend to cling. Just bring them along with you to a larger group.
- Stop at the food table, as people always congregate around appetizers and buffets. Conversations are easily initiated with comments about the food, then the weather, the commute, and finally introductions.
- During the presentation, sit at the back to catch people as they leave after the speaker or panel’s talk.
Mingling and Meeting
- When you meet people, deliver your compelling, 10-second elevator pitch as an introduction only if asked who you are and what you do. Keep the focus on the people you meet. Ask them open-ended questions to get them talking about themselves.
- Don’t worry about small-talk. If you need to fill up conversation, talk about the speaker and topic.
- Keep in mind networking is about your pursuit of networking contacts, not the reverse. Request their business cards, rather than proffering yours. Provide yours, with a QR code on the back, only when asked directly.
- Keep a laser focus on finding out who they are and what they do. Try to assess during the introduction phase if they are worth pursuing and a follow-up. If they are, spend time talking to them; otherwise, move on. Yes, this is calculating, but there is no time for it not to be.
- Learn to articulate a couple short scripts that allow you to make graceful exits as quickly as possible. Your goal is to find valuable connections and follow up later. If that’s not your goal, then be at your leisure, enjoy the speaker, the libations, and find another way to build your network.
- Stay to the end, help with packing up, and thank your hosts. Most importantly, ask them for any advice on following up with key attendees that you met and they know. Arrange a time for coffee with them, if that supports your goals.
- Immediately email follow-up messages the next day to everyone you met at the event reminding them of who you are and a bit of your conversations.
- E-mail the speaker(s) and apologize for not introducing yourself at the event. Compliment and comment on the particulars of their talk. Ask a couple questions and permission to stay in touch.
- With some of those you met, take the next step and invite them for coffee or lunch. Be selective and target those especially interesting to your career goals.
- Keep in touch with your network monthly or quarterly depending on your career goals by sending a relevant article or blog/Linkedin post that preferably you wrote.
- This is where using social media, a good database application, and CRM tools enables your capacity to maintain personal, engaging contact with fairly large networks.
Networking is the process of gathering connections and turning some of those connections into mutually supportive relationships with discernment. This is not a short-term tactic to get you to the next job, but rather a life-long career management activity.
The Ultimate Executive Career Guide: In-Person and Social Media Networking
As a senior-level executive, you can use this guide to: