When I was growing up in New Jersey, my mother held political office. I would go with her to all kinds of different events and watch as she made her way around the room. She somehow managed to touch and talk with everyone. The people she spoke with all talked as if they had spent the entire evening with her instead of the two to five minutes they actually conversed. This is the art of a good networker, and the skills needed can be learned.
Here are my mother’s top tips for successful networking:
1. Have a plan.
Before you attend the event, take some time to think about what you want to achieve. Are there specific people you hope to meet? Know a little about them before you meet them. Is there a topic that you need to address or information you hope to gather? Practice your elevator speeches, and you will be ready when your chance comes. Even something as trivial as knowing which door you want to enter through can make your time more productive. Find a methodical way to work around the room. This can be done by attacking from the perimeter to the middle, by splitting the room into quadrants, working clockwise or counter clockwise. The goal is make sure you do not miss an area of the room, not to make sure you speak with every single person. Five to ten minutes of preparation can make the difference between floating aimlessly or hitting your targets with ease.
2. Do not cling to the people you already know.
This is probably the biggest mistake I see people making at networking events. Flustered by a sea of unfamiliar faces, it can seem logical that you would seek out friends you know. However, the goal of networking is to enhance and enlarge your circle of influence. This can only be accomplished when you step outside your comfort zone and introduce yourself to new people. Remember that they too came to this networking event, and this is THE event where people attend already expecting to meet someone new.
3. Its not the amount of time you spend with people but the quality of that time.
This is how my mother was able to have brief conversations leaving people feeling as if she had spent the whole night with them. Your goal is to put people at ease regardless of how powerful they are. You can do this by looking people in the eye and finding common ground with your new contact whether it is through a compliment on something they are wearing, a discussion of favorite coffees or the tried-and-true stand-by of weather topics. Remember that people can smell a phony a mile away. You do not have to always agree with people, but you should be sincere. If you are asked an awkward question that you do not want to answer, know that you can say anything you want and do not have to answer the question asked.
4. Collect business cards and make notes on the back.
Ask for a business card and be ready to pass your card out. If people do not have a card, ask them to jot their info down onto one of yours. Keep the cards of the people you meet separated by the events at which you met them. Have a pen handy and make notes on the back of business cards to recall details of your conversation.
5. Follow up!
Now that you have made new connections, follow up and make sure you keep them. While nothing has quite the same impact as a hand-written personal note, today’s technology offers you many options to get this done with relative ease. It can be as simple as an email or as socially trendy as befriending them on Facebook, following them on Twitter or connecting with them on LinkedIn. Better still is if you can do more than one method of follow up. If you follow all the other steps and do not follow up, the rest of your efforts can be wasted.
Finally and most importantly, HAVE FUN! If you are enjoying yourself, people will be drawn to you.