Times have changed and so should your business networking strategies…
The days of showing up ‘dressed up to the nine’ with a briefcase, your hair slicked back and an elevator pitch in your back pocket are far behind us. Both technology and the abundance of start-ups and entrepreneurs have helped to rapidly evolve the business networking game and we’re here to help clear up some common misconceptions and provide you with up-to-date tips, tricks, and strategies to help you get the most out of the events you attend, lower the incidents of social awkwardness, as well as increase your reputation and networking skillset.
Where to find the best business networking events…
Although face-to-face interactions are still the supreme way of leaving an impression and starting a long-lasting professional relationship, the below list includes some platforms which have events hosted solely online. Many times, people take advantage of the event platforms and leave posts and message users without ever attending the events. We recommend a balanced strategy of both showing-up in person and interacting on the event pages or platforms online. Virtually every industry has professional networking events both online and offline.
- Facebook Groups
- Local Colleges & Universities
- Local Chamber of Commerce
- Online Webinars & Seminars
- Conferences – Excellent way to meet industry professionals. If it’s too expensive to attend, a shrewd idea would be to stay at the hosting hotel and try to strike up impromptu conversations in the lobby, gym, bar, restaurant, etc.
- Start your own – if you’re dissatisfied with the events in your area and have a large network, try hosting your own networking group, preferably using Meetup, Eventbrite, Facebook, or LinkedIn to organize an event.
- Business Network International and LeTip – you can join a chapter at one of these business networking leads organizations which essentially build referral teams to get you more business. Since the membership fees to join these organizations are not cheap, we believe this should be a last resort option as we have heard mixed reviews about the efficacy of these groups for certain industries.
Establish a purpose or goal for the event
We highly recommend figuring out some desired goals you wish to attain at the event in order to make your attendance worthwhile.
Here’s some common goals professionals aim for at networking events nowadays…
- Recruit more clientele
- Find key partnerships
- Brand recognition
- Seek out qualified professionals to join the team
- Grow your social media presence
- Get a jolt of inspiration and motivation
- Stay aware of the current trends
- Sharpen your networking skills
- Socialize and debrief from the workday
Do some research prior to attending
If you signed up to the event via platforms like Eventbrite, Meetup, or Facebook, chances are you can go through the ‘going’ list and see if you can spot a few folks that you’d be interested in connecting with at the event, or even prior to the event itself. Take a glance at which industry they belong to and come prepared with a few questions to ask to guide the conversation along and mention a few ways you can be useful to their journey. People are more likely to respond favorably to someone who shows interest in a mutually beneficial relationship.
Also, look into who is hosting the event. Individuals behind the event are typically well connected and established in their field. So having a little background knowledge can impress them during a conversation and make your interaction more memorable.
What to wear and what to bring…
Dress code is usually specified in the description of the event. Business casual is typically the way to go. Wear stylish yet comfortable shoes to stand in because you’re likely to be on your feet for the majority of the event. Make sure to have pockets that can comfortably fit business cards. Ideally, have two pockets available; one for your own business cards, and the other for placing the cards you acquire from others.
It’s a good idea to bring…
- A photo ID – If there is a bar on site, you will not be allowed in without one.
- Business Cards – Bring plenty (at least 20-25 to be safe).
- Professional Business Card Holder – Good way to look suave.
- Credit Card and Cash – Just in case the fee to get into the event is cash-only.
- Bring a friend – Very helpful if you’re shy or anxious about the event.
- Fully Charged Phone – You’re likely to add folks on Instagram, LinkedIn, or Facebook, so you want to make sure your phone has ample battery power. Sometimes you’ll want to pull up a photo from a recent project or recommend an online resource and if you’re battery dies mid-exchange it’s less than ideal. It’s always a good idea to pack an extra battery if your phone has a replaceable battery setup.
- Bring Your Optimistic, Energized Self – Being a tired grouch is not a good first impression. Be well-rested and in a positive mindset.
When to show up to the event…
Most professionals will tell you it is essential to show up on time, but our answer is ‘it depends’. If you are looking to rub shoulders with the folks hosting the event, then it makes a lot of sense to show up 20-30 minutes prior to the event to help them set up and even offer to volunteer for a portion of the event. Alternatively, you can stick around after the event and help in the clean-up process, but the hosts of the event will likely be exhausted by that time and not as enthusiastically engage you. If you are mainly concerned with making connections with the actual attendees of the event, then the answer depends on how long the event is and your personality type.
If you’re a socially adept extroverted individual, then you likely don’t require a warm-up session and can therefore jump in at anytime. Networking can be exhausting and since some of these events run up to three hours in length, there can be an advantage to showing up half-way through, full of energy and sticking it through to the very end. After all, our memory does favor recent events and there’s a healthy chance you’ll be remembered better if you make an impression towards the end of the event rather than at the beginning. If you are an introvert, we highly recommend that you show up a few minutes early to the event. This way you can start mingling and ease into the scene before it gets too crowded. Another thing to keep in mind is that in the beginning of a networking event there are more one-on-one conversations than towards the middle or end when networkers tend to form pods of 3-4 people.
Aim for synergistic collaboration…
Think broader than simply selling your product or service to others at the event. Think of a few ways you can assist other professionals in various fields. Positive Networking revolves around figuring out what you can do for someone else that does not directly relate to your product or service offerings. For example, at PromoAmbitions, we have made many connections over the years to influencers and professionals in various industries and have made dozens of fruitful connections for others.
Seek out people who can inspire and motivate you. Connect with someone who you may reach out to for insightful advice or vice versa. Think of big players or industry experts you already have in your network and how you can connect them to others. Becoming known as an individual who connects people can lead to a reputation of being a helpful, masterful networker.
How to start the conversation…
Stop being so serious! You are not on trial and you are not doing an elevator pitch in front of Shark Tank.
Smile, breathe, and let the conversation flow.
Start with a compliment – The examples below may sound corny, but as long as they’re unique and genuine, they work very well…
- Example: “Your company has done a stellar job with marketing in this area, do you enjoy your line of work Tom?”
- Example: “You win ‘best shoes at the networking event’ award, what brings you to this event, Amy?”
- Example: “If I had handwriting as good as yours (nametag), then maybe I wouldn’t be stuck behind a keyboard…how long have you been working in commercial real estate John?”
- Example: “Good choice of beverage Nancy…I feel like your financial advice is most likely on point as well. How long have you been a financial planner?”
***Be mindful to keep the compliments professional. Do not compliment someone on their body. Coming off as sleazy or having alternative motives is not the best way to start.***
Ask a question – Asking a friendly question is as good an ice-breaker as any. Some effective examples include…
- Example: “Hi Paula, how did you hear about this event?”
- Example: “This event has been really insightful, do you know of any other networking events similar to this one?”
- Example: “Hey James, I have friends that work in the same industry as you and they get really stressed sometimes, do you have any good suggestions on how to unwind during the stressful times?”
- Example: “Hey, are you originally from this city?”
As you’re listening to their answer, be sure to think of follow-up questions or an interesting thought to add to the conversation. Use these prepared thoughts to continue the conversation, but make sure to not interrupt. Be patient. Focus on preparing your next words while still remaining genuine.
Say something witty or comical – The atmosphere many times gets way too professional, and everyone appreciates a little comic relief. Say something to get their guard down, and don’t get discouraged if they don’t respond favorably. If they are that ‘up-tight’, then they’re likely not going to be pleasant to deal with and you’ve saved yourself some valuable time. Some ideas of funny things to say…
- Example: “Well, I’m clearly way under-dressed for this event!”
- Example: “I was going to write ‘Venture Capitalist’ on my nametag to get people to schmooze up to me, but I decided to be virtuous today”
- Example: “Hey, I’m interested in finding out about what you do, but I’ve been standing all day and my legs are about to give out. Want to grab a seat there with me for a brief chat?”
- Example: (With a charming smile) “Are you enjoying the fake conversations and everyone asking you to follow them on Instagram as much as I am?!?”
How to continue the conversation…
Toss the Sales Pitch – It’s perfectly acceptable to have memorized a few lines to draw from memory when answering the question of ‘what do you do’ and ‘why you’re here’, but please do not go into a memorized diatribe about your company’s mission and how you will revolutionize the world. All that will do, is have the person thinking about how to exit the conversation, while nodding and pretending to be interested.
Body Language – Your nonverbal signals during a verbal exchange play an essential role in social perception.
- Do your best to periodically smile. A smile can be very disarming and confirms that you are enjoying the interaction. Additionally, you make the individual feel less awkward and more accepted. Do not underestimate the power of a smile during a social interaction.
- Maintain good eye contact. Give a subtle nod in agreement with what they’re saying from time to time. Do not let your eyes travel to staring at their body. Do not stare off into the abyss as they are talking to you. Maintaining eye contact with someone lets them know that you are engaged and that they have your full attention.
- Stop folding your arms. Folding your arms gives off a subconscious cue that you are defensive, defiant, or in disagreement. Unless you are Mr. Clean, start paying attention to this bad habit and abstain from it during networking events. Having your arms at your side or behind your back is best for letting your conversation partner know you are attentive and welcoming of the exchange.
Do not hog the conversation – Remember, you’re aiming for balanced discourse at networking events, not monologues. People didn’t come to watch a show starring you. They came to make connections and learn about other people’s initiatives and brainstorm potential collaboration to further their business ambitions. When you talk too much, you either come off as full of yourself or as if you’re compensating for something.
Stop bragging – Keep it easy and light in conversation. If they inquire about specifics, then you can start name-dropping big clients you work with or recent awards you have attained. Being humble suggests you are confident and capable. When you start rattling off achievements, you come off as desperate for praise and smug.
Remember the name – If you’re going to ask for the person’s name, especially if it is not on their nametag, memorize it! Use it during the conversation and especially at the end of the conversation. Utilizing this effectively helps to build trust, respect, and appreciation.
- Example: “Thank you for your interesting insights. I’ll definitely be in touch. Hope you find what you’re looking for at this event, Alli.”
Encourage the person to talk about themselves and their industry – Listen attentively. Be genuine and sincere in your responses and your compliments. Throw in some humor if you can. Ask them questions they likely haven’t heard before. Ask them something personal about their work. Ask them about something you’re truly interested in and that way you don’t have to fake being interested in their answer.
- Example: “Julia, I know it can get quite overwhelming during tax season for you accounting folks, what helps you compartmentalize and unwind during the hectic work season?”
How to exit the conversation…
Unless you truly feel you’re having a life-changing mingling session, we suggest keeping the conversations to 8-10 minutes at most and then moving on. An exchange of information often occurs towards the end of the interaction. Make sure your business cards are easily accessible so that you can retrieve them without awkwardly fumbling around. A popular way to exchange information nowadays is simply to use the LinkedIn Code feature on your mobile device. A quick scan of the code and you’re connected with your new contact. Following each other on Instagram is another popular way to connect – it’s beneficial because you both get an extra follow and can easily message one another to set up a call or a meeting for a later date. Technological trends and apps are ever-evolving and it’s important to stay up-to-date on current apps and methods for making connections.
How to exit a worthy conversation – Gracefully let them know you are thankful for having met them and you will reach out to them soon.
- Example: “I’m really happy we crossed paths Stella, you’ll definitely be hearing from me soon.”
- Example: “Thank you for the helpful insights, this was my favorite conversation of the evening, I’ll be in touch shortly.”
If you feel you can be of service to them directly or indirectly, then let them know!
- Example: “You know Bill, even though I’m a bit outside of your industry, I know a contractor who was looking to link up with a reputable commercial real estate professional. Would you like me to make the connection for you? I’d be happy to set that up.”
- Example: “I was reading a really interesting piece on how Amazon and the medicinal cannabis industry will revolutionize healthcare – I think you as a health insurance professional might find it insightful – what’s your preferred method of contact, I’ll gladly pass it along.”
***Do not promise anyone timelines if you are not going to adhere to them. If someone tells us they will email us by Friday, or call us tomorrow and we get the email or call two later, 9 times out of 10 we will give it no attention. You’re starting out 0 for 1 on staying true to your word. Just say ‘in the near future’ or ‘soon’ if you’re someone who is too busy or not great at adhering to specific timelines.***
How to exit an unworthy conversation – Occasionally, you will get into an unproductive conversation. While there is no reason to be rude to anyone at an event, you would be doing yourself a disservice by continuing the conversation out of politeness. Here’s a few ideas on how to politely move on…
- “It was very nice to meet you, I’ve been meaning to say hello to a few friends I see at the event, good luck on your journey John.”
- “I’m going to go get a refill at the bar, enjoy the event Debra!”
- “(Glance at phone) – “Ughhh work never ends, I’m so sorry but I have to return this call…it was nice meeting you.”
- “It was nice chatting with you, I’ll see you around at the events.”
- “Do you happen to know where the bathroom is?”
How to follow up after a networking event…
We highly recommend that you follow up the next day after the networking event. People are usually gassed out after these events so if you follow up immediately after, the individual might make a mental note to ‘handle it later’ and forget. Make sure your follow up email, LinkedIn message, Instagram message, etc. includes something unique. For instance, you can reference something you discussed during the event or look into them online and commend them on their achievements.
- Example: “Hi Susan, it was an absolute pleasure meeting you yesterday! I looked into your latest commercial real estate project online. I’d be happy to pass along some helpful advice to get your website more visibility. Are you available for a brief chat sometime next week, preferably in the afternoon? I saw that you deal with a lot of medium-sized businesses, I’d like to fill you in on how my company sets up IT infrastructure for new tenants and maybe we can refer each other from time to time.”
Make sure to be direct about what you wish to attain from the follow up. Do not ask to schedule a phone call or a face-to-face meeting if you don’t have something mutually beneficial to propose or discuss. Make sure to emphasize how you can be of help to them prior to asking for a specific favor. The burden of explaining how you can be of use to someone falls on the individual who is reaching out for a specific ask.
Knowing all of the best practice techniques at networking events does not make you a networking guru. You have to put it to practice. No more excuses and no more kicking proverbial goal cans down the road! Put yourself out there and go make new friends, new connections, attain new inspiration, and shorten the distance between you and your ambitions. You deserve greatness!
Let us know in the comments section if our advice proves to be helpful. If you have other suggestions, better recommendations, questions, funny experiences, feel free to share those as well.