by Patti Wilson
Feb 12 2016
Too often we overlook the opportunities for making new connections offered up at conferences, trade shows, meetings, institute seminars. Our attention gravitates to current contacts, the people we know. Our minds wander back to the office too frequently. How much of our time is spent online, texting or on the phone with our office? Or, do we cloister ourselves off with our colleagues and customers to the exclusion of all others?
For an over busy, demand-driven executive, “working a room” can be a taxing expenditure of time and energy resources. How do we maximize our networking to the best advantage? You may consider yourself a seasoned veteran at event networking but here are a few basic refresher tips to keep in mind.
Have a Goal in Mind
Here are the questions you should be able to easily answer, and I am sure that one of your answers will not be to find a job. We all know it doesn’t work that way as networking is a multi-stage process of greeting, meeting, building, solidifying and maintaining a connection before anything can be asked of them.
Why are you attending this event? What do you want to take away from being there? Given those answers, who do you want to connect with when you get there? Are all your networking objectives with known people? Are you seeking to broaden your network and make new contacts? Who are the most beneficial people for you to meet and make as new contacts?
If you don’t have the end results in view, your networking efforts will be piecemeal and scattered. Once you know the end goal, milestones can be tracked and your tactics can be calibrated. If your efforts are not paying off then you can course-correct.
Prep, Target, and Invite New Contacts to Meet
Almost all events/conferences post a list of attendees to review prior to the start date. This may include contact information such as titles, email addresses, phone numbers and company names. Review the attendees and decide who you do not know that you would want to meet. Prioritize the list and send out an introduction email to the person with an offer to meet at the conference. If you have the time and they are amenable, formalize the connection with a private meeting over coffee, lunch, a pre-dinner drink or after-meeting nightcap. This, of course, is dependent on the length of the event.
Introduce Yourself to the Organizers
Ringing up or emailing the event/meeting/conference organizers to introduce yourself will give you a big return on your investment of time and effort. If you already know the organizers, reaching out to thank them in advance, re-introduce yourself or offer to be of assistance to them. This is such a rarity that they will be duly impressed with you. You will have ingratiated yourself in advance such that when you do arrive, they will be more effusive in their greeting and willing to make introductions to those hard to reach contacts you have targeted in advance.
Research the Content of the Event
Yes, you are going there to be informed, but it makes sense to prepare yourself by getting informed about the presenters, the topics and the big issues. Be able to discuss the topics in advance at a cursory level. Know the background of the main presenters. There is no better way to open, and advance a conversation, than to discuss the event with some reasonable background knowledge. In fact being able to provide some back story on the event theme, topics and presenters will build rapport and engage new contacts in conversation.
Arrive Early and Stay to the End
The best networking happens at the beginning and the end. When fewer people are in the room the opportunities for distraction and diversion are less. The food is not yet served and people are just getting beverages. Starting up conversations by wandering around is feasible in a room that is not overflowing. Further, it is easy to monitor who enters and approach them when the event room is not over crowded. At the end of an event, the presenters, panelists and organizers always remain and the best time for conversations with them can be had at that time.
Small Talk is Not Small, It is Stealthy
Small talk is a misunderstood convention. It really is non-business talk e.g. it’s personal. There are degrees of personal talk from the traffic/travel/commute and weather to someone’s golf scores and pet ownership. Starting to chat about the former and moving to the latter with a targeted new connection will make a deeper longer lasting impression than just business talk. It also serves to provide you with additional information to use when you follow up and keep in touch with this new connection. It becomes trite and boring to send business articles or information to stay in touch when an interesting bit on golf would be entertaining and welcomed.
Taking a personal interest in someone is demonstrated using small talk and it is a very stealthy tool to use to build relationship and engagement.
Collect Cards, Take Notes
The unsolicited handing out your business card is an exercise in personal vanity. If no one asks for it, don’t offer it. Instead far better mileage is gained by asking for business cards and finding time either during the event or immediately afterwards to jot down some key bits of information and data on the contact’s card. Making this a habit will facilitate your follow-up with the person and of course impress them with your keen memory and the interest you took in them.
Owning some kind of card scanner is a must have office productivity tool but nowadays more bleeding edge smart phone users simply use Bluetooth to exchange contact information. At any rate, not making notes is a loss of effort that will go unrewarded.
Manage Your Expectations
If you come away with two new connections that are worthwhile, will grow and pay-off for you, then call it a win. Too often, we ask more of our networking efforts than we can feasibly deliver from our available time and the type and quality of the attendees. Keep your expectations in alignment with what else you have on your “to do” list.
Further, networking is a marathon not a sprint. It takes a long time to build and cultivate a good network. Patience is a virtue in this case. Networking is a process and a journey as well as an end result. You never know who you will be meet along the way so be open to the meetings and connections that were unplanned and not strategic. You never know.
For more on this topic, register for our next networking webinar: How to Network With Executive Search Consultants.