Having just attended two networking events in an equal number of evenings (PR-Net and 27 Dinner), I had the opportunity to practice some of the tips I learnt from Colette Carlson’s “Communication secrets to change your life” seminar last weekend. I’m still learning and some of these tips take a bit of practice (they don’t call it net-work for nothing), but I’ve found them to be incredibly useful:
1. Wear your stripes
Make sure to introduce yourself at every opportunity. Let people know who you are upfront. Don’t lose an opportunity by simply saying “Hi, I’m Robynn”. Rather say “Hi, I’m Robynn Burls, the owner of Encyclomedia, the online media database for the PR industry. And you are?” Now people know who you are and it opens the opportunity for them to ask you more about what you do.
2. Introduce yourself to the loners - you’ll be their hero
No-one likes to be standing alone at a networking event, it’s embarrassing! It makes you do stupid things like pretend you’re checking email on your cell (and we all know you’re really only trying to look busy).
Make a point of walking up to the person and introduce yourself. The loners will be so grateful to finally be involved that they won’t be able to forget you. Remember, the objective behind good networking is to become memorable in the minds of others.
3. Bring outsiders into the conversation - more hero-factor
When you’re chatting in a group and you see that certain individuals are being side-lined, pull them back into the conversation by saying “John, what do you think about that?” By giving him the opportunity to get back into the group, you’ll make yourself more memorable to John.
Also, when you are talking, be inclusive and connect with everyone’s eyes, not just the person who asked you a question.
4. Lost and alone? Start a conversation
It’s always tough, if not a little daunting, when attending an event alone. Don’t get stuck in a quiet corner playing with your phone. Walk straight up to the busiest area, normally the bar, or around the registration table. Remember to smile, it makes you look more approachable - people like friendly people. Find another person and casually comment ”I don’t know anyone here. How about you?”
There you have it, you’ve started a conversation and it wasn’t so difficult. The fear of doing something is always far worse than actually doing it.
5. Embarrassing silence? Prepare ahead
We’ve all experienced that dreaded lull in conversation where you nervously take a gulp of wine, hoping someone will think of something to say by the time you’ve swallowed. Now you can use this silence to your advantage. Depending on the type of people attending the event, take some time out beforehand to read some recent blog posts or newspaper articles related to their field of interest. Find something quirky or humorous (no front-page dreary news stories please) and keep it at the back of your mind.
The moment people start fidgeting and looking around, you can add “hey, did any of you read Dave Duarte’s post about Nokia’s hilarious “position art” campaign?” If someone says yes, then invite them to tell the group about it. Not only have you saved the conversation, for which everyone is enormously grateful, but you’ve also given someone else the opportunity to tell a story. This once again makes you more memorable in the story-teller’s mind.
6. Ask unusual, but appropriate questions
Aim to create conversations that connect. You need to be a little strategic and use the short space of time that you spend talking to someone to build rapport (find common ground). Talking about the weather or the view is only convenient when you can’t think of anything else meaningful. Don’t waste an opportunity, rather prepare some questions ahead of time. Remember, there’s a bit of “work” in networking.
You could say something like “tell me what you do on weekends”. This is a clever question because it lets the person speak about their passions. People find it easy to talk about things they’re genuinely passionate about, so you can easily accelerate the conversation from there. If someone says they like to go hiking, then simply say “oh, tell me about that”.
7. Focus on others
It’s better to be interested than interesting. It’s a funny thing, but research has shown that the more you get a person to speak about herself, the more she will remember you as being interesting.
8. Make notes of people’s interests
When you get home after a networking event, make a note of everything that you can remember about the people you met - how many dogs and cats they have, what their children’s names are, what their hobbies are, etc. You could put this into a spreadsheet and categorise it by event or industry. Preferably synch the spreadsheet with your phone so you can quickly check the details again on-the-go.
The next time you meet the person, try asking how the wife’s rowing regatta went and see how his face lights up!
9. Give before getting
Once you know what a person’s interests are, take it a step further than simply bringing it up the next time you meet. Use the information to help you connect and build a relationship. Use Google Alerts, Amatomu, Muti or Afrigator to search for new content relevant to the person’s interests. Then send a quick email with a link to the article or blog post saying that you thought he or she would find it interesting.
Wow, now you’re making a real impact in the person’s mind. Try to help others get what they want and you become a trustworthy, memorable contact.
10. Close a conversation with class
When at a networking event, it doesn’t serve you to spend the entire evening chatting to one individual. The objective is to meet as many people as possible who can help you get your ideas, interests and agendas heard (whether that’s making a new bunch of friends or finding potential clients).
So when you find yourself stuck in a long-winded conversation, take advantage of a natural lull. Confidently say “well, it was really lovely meeting you Fanie, I hope we get to meet again soon. Enjoy the rest of your evening”. Then you’re free to shake hands and move on back to the bar where you can start again and meet someone new.
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