It was my first big networking event since starting my company. The lobby was packed with business owners looking to pick their needle out of a haystack. Turned out, most of the people I met didn’t care what I did, they wanted to sell to me. I resisted the urge to run.
Eventually, I met a CEO of a startup, and we bonded over how stressful it was to do what we came to do – network. You know, here’s who I am, what I do, let’s get to know each other for 30 seconds before shoving random products or services down each other’s throats. We talked for nearly an hour which turns out wasn’t a remarkably better choice than 30 seconds. We were hiding, not networking.
After interjecting myself into as many circles as I could of people holding lousy wine in one hand and a stack of business cards in the other, I was pooped. The most progress I made that night was an offer to join a local BNI by someone who sold printer cartridge refills.
There was also the money manager who met with me at Panera to figure out how we could refer each other and he left me with a stack of his marketing materials that was only slightly smaller than Mt. Everest.
Success Tips for Your Next Networking Event
If you find networking for your small business stressful too, here are some tips to not only make it more effective but also more enjoyable.
Adjust Your Expectations – It’s Not a Sales Event
At your next networking event, remember you’re there to make connections – not sales. Yes, it’s possible you’ll get a customer but unlikely. Let’s be honest, you’ll talk to most people there for less than 10 minutes – they’re not going to sign on the dotted line before you head back to your car. Stop behaving like they will.
Tip: Get to know people beyond their business. Get curious and ask questions about them, not only what they do to pay the bills. Focus on starting a relationship.
Set a Goal – Even One Solid Contact
You’re in the room, don’t let the opportunity pass you buy just because the last five people you spoke to made it hard for you to stifle your yawns. If you leave with one contact that’s meaningful, that’s a night well spent.
Tip: Decide on your goal and let it energize you. Do you want to walk out of the event with 25 business cards (probably not that helpful), 5 meaningful conversations, or two follow-up meetings? Whatever you choose, let your goal help you stay engaged and present to what’s happening in the room.
Be Brave and Don’t Wait for People to Come up to You
You may want to stand alone by the bar and look like you’re focused on an important business email while playing Candy Crush, but that’s a poor choice. No matter how shy you feel, you’re there for a reason, and it’s not finally passing level 672.
Tip: Smile. Even when you plaster it on, a smile helps to elevate your mood and reduce stress. A bonus is that your smile will not only help put you at ease but is a sign to others that you’re receptive. Remember, everyone is there to interact. If you’re too shy to break into a group, keep your eye out for conversations that are ending or other people that look desperate for someone to come up and say hello.
Practice Your Pitch but Also Stop and Listen
Chances are before you showed up at the event, you practiced your pitch. (If you haven’t, it’s a good idea). The problem is that when you’re so focused on your pitch, services, and selling points, you don’t stop to listen.
Tip: Active listening takes the pressure off of you and turns a pitch into a curiosity-fueled conversation. Yes, share what you do, your elevator pitch, but remember, your goal isn’t pitching, it’s connecting.
Asking for a Friend
That person telling you about their printer cartridges may not be the right contact for you, but it may be for a friend or another person you’ve met at the event. Instead of trying to hoard targets for future sales, think about your Rolodex.
Tip: Be a connector. Be on the lookout to help your contacts and potentially create a supporter that will refer you in the future.
Set a Date
Think of your networking event as a blind date. Sometimes you want to see them again for a second date, right? Well, to make that happen you have to ask. All of those business cards are just pieces of paper. You want a relationship, continue the conversation.
Tip: Whether you decide to meet again on the spot or you send a follow-up email that night, ask for the second date – ask. Also, like in dating, not every person has to be a love connection but someone you think you can develop a relationship with over time.
Ok, so it may not be easy for someone with social anxiety, or for a business owner who would rather be rockin’ and rollin’ back at the office, but I promise you, it will get better. Networking is essential, and it shouldn’t be something you dread.
What would you add? How have you made networking something you look forward to instead of trying to avoid at all costs?
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