(for people who don’t love business networking)
Does the thought of business networking and meeting new people make you nervous rather than excited? Do you deliberately arrive at business events late, leave early, and struggle to find people to talk to and things to say while you’re there? Is building relationships with others important to your business and professional growth?
There’s no doubt that making new contacts is essential in business. While some people are outgoing and can confidently generate interesting discussion with strangers, others are more at ease either alone or with people they know well. For more reserved people, networking can feel anything from uncomfortable to terrifying.
While business networking events can attract extroverts, there are usually some attendees who find it hard to strike up conversations and enjoy the experience.
Whatever you feel about networking, here are ways to make it easier and more effective for all involved.
Start with the right expectations of what business networking is
To be successful, every business networking function doesn’t need to result in new leads for your business. You don’t need to ensure you tell a certain number of people about what you do, nor hand out and collect a batch of business cards.
Relationships are built over time, and it can take many interactions with people to build rapport and trust.
When you attend an event, a smart goal is to meet some new people, find out more about people you’ve already met, and add value to others where you can. You might start by simply aiming to stay to the end!
Go with the right objectives
It’s easy to spot someone who is only interested in talking about themselves, selling their product or service, and handing out their details to as many people as they can. If you’ve been a victim of a sales pitch at a function, I’m sure it didn’t leave a good impression.
Go to networking events with an intent to:
• Meet and learn about other people
• Show interest in others and what they do
• Question rather than tell
• Connect other people to each other
• Share useful information to help others
To be a good networker you don’t have to be the most outgoing, confident, and talkative person in the room. Be authentic. It’s okay to start a conversation with “I’m not a natural networker and I find it hard to meet new people at functions. Do you know many people here?”
If you see someone you’ve met previously, go out of your way to say hello and build on the relationship. If you recognise their face but not their name (or at which event you met them) you could say “I’m sorry, I know we’ve met but I’ll admit I can’t remember where” or “I really enjoyed speaking with you last time, but I’m sorry I’ve forgotten your name.” Then use their name several times in the conversation to ensure it sticks.
Even if you know many people at the event, gravitate towards people standing on their own. Chances are they are feeling uncomfortable and will welcome your approach.
Some conversation starters:
• Do you know many people here?
• How often do you attend these events?
• Have you made any great connections at these events?
• Is the food always this great here?
Make it interesting
The standard questions of “what do you do?” and “where do you work?” can be predictable. Even if you start with this approach, it’s good to follow up with questions to get to know the person rather than just their role.
You could try, “have you always lived in this area?” or “what do you like to do in your down-time?” Conversations start to flow when people open up about things they are passionate about.
Ensure your own introductions are interesting and can open up further discussion. Instead of just, “Hi, I’m Sam, a building designer at ABC Building Designs” you could add, “I love helping developers get the most value from their investment by maximising what they can build on their land.”
Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point talks about natural networkers being either Connectors or Information Mavens. Connectors love to introduce people to each other, and always have a good recommendation for a plumber, architect, solicitor, or hair salon. They know a lot of people and enjoy helping others connect.
Information Mavens like to share useful information. They are well researched on many topics and love to provide information to others to help them out.
If you know a Connector or Information Maven seek them out at business networking events. If they don’t already attend, invite them to come along with you. They’ll ensure you meet new people and learn something new. Observe how they interact with others and see if you can model their approach next time.
After each event, make notes of who you met, where they work, and what they do. Record other details you learned such as how many kids they have, that they love mountain bike riding, or that they were about to holiday in Fiji. Read your notes just before the next event so you have some good conversation starters when you see them.
Whether or not you obtained their details, invite people you met to connect on LinkedIn to maintain contact. Send an “it was lovely to meet you” message. They may or may not reply, but they’ll appreciate the effort.
Yellow Coaching helps business owners and their teams to network effectively as part of their ongoing coaching program. Get in touch here to find out how we can help you with business networking skills.
A shorter version of this article was first published in Hunter Headline on 23 October 2018.