So here’s the deal with networking events: Most people dread and despise them! Does the artificial setting and forced small talk give you the willies, too? The thing is, they can be incredibly valuable, efficient and effective venues for meeting and reconnecting with contacts.
I suggest this to you: Take a “fish where the fish are” approach to networking events. Go in prepared and utilize them to connect with people who you would like to meet but might not otherwise have access to. A few tips:
- Preparedness. Once you know about a networking event and have committed to attending, have a goal in mind. Is there one person (or two? or more?) who you believe might be there? Seek out that individual for a simple introduction. Also, have some good valuable information that can be shared with anyone with whom you may come into contact – such as the name of a great handyman or a fabulous new restaurant – this type of information will provide useful fodder for engaging in a discussion with people who you may be meeting for the first time. The few minutes that you spend preparing for these events will pay dividends – it only takes 5-15 minutes to ready yourself for the event.
- Access to the Right People. One of my most loyal blog supporters is my childhood friend, Jack (Hi, Jack!). He’s a law professor who has been promoting my blog to his students and colleagues. He tells me that while networking can be challenging for graduating students, with a little effort, it can be done, especially if they take the Coffee-Lunch-Coffee structure and adapt it for their fields of study and/or professional interests. He uses the example of the law firm recruiting process which is highly routinized and leaves little room for networking as a tool for job seekers. That said, he suggests that law students attend continuing education and related networking events that lawyers go to, which often have reduced or even free admission for law students. There, the students can meet and get to know people in their industry as a means to getting into the business. The same holds true whether you are a law student, a financial planner, a corporate executive or a sales rep. Notice how I twisted a continuing education course into a de facto networking event! Go figure. Don’t know where to look for networking events? Start with your local chamber of commerce or rotary club… find a relevant industry trade or special interest organization for your industry or your desired customers’ industries. Ask someone who you admire which events they attend… ask if you can come along next time.
- Once You are On the Scene. My friend and mentor, Eric Morgenstern of Morningstar Communications, does a great talk on tips for networking events. I won’t steal his thunder, but I will share a couple of my favorite at-networking-event-tips that he discusses in his talk. The first is wear a name tag and wear it on your right hand side – it makes it easier for your contacts to discreetly recall (and later, remember) your name when they go to shake your hand. A second tip that Eric shares is that if you want to make sure that you get to see the people who you want to see and talk with, stand near the food and/or bar. Everyone seeks out the food and drink – why not position yourself near this highly sought destination? Eric reminds us, however, don’t stand in front of the food, or in the food… just near the food!
- What to Share and Take Away. I recommend this: At a networking event, your goal should be to identify and connect with a few key contacts. The goal is not to come home with a pocketful of others’ business cards… it is to come home with a few business cards of people who you want to follow up with. Better still is if they ask you to follow up with them. And, by the way, make sure you take your own business cards with you – it is fair game (and expected) to do a good old fashioned card exchange. That is cards only… no resumes or marketing collateral. That can come later.
Whatever your proclivity for networking events, I suggest that you identify one to attend and practice, practice, practice. I bet in no time you will be prepared to meet the people who you want to meet at the places where they go! It’ll be fun… and I’ll discuss that in my next post.