Whether you’ve been in business for 25 years or are just starting out, networking is a critical element of advancing your career and business. Here are some tips for helping you get the most out of your networking experience:
1. Begin with the End in Mind. Your time is valuable, and networking is a serious investment. Spend 15 minutes thinking about how you will define success after the event is over. Will it be connecting with someone in particular, or connecting with many different people? Will it be to learn more about the market you’re serving, or to promote your products and services? Before you arrive, have a clear vision about what you want to accomplish. Know who your ideal customer is and the one key message you want them to know about your business. Make sure you are comfortable knowing who you want to talk to and what you are going to say before you arrive.
2. Do your Homework. For larger events, especially those you have to travel for, look at event information and identify the “must meet” people that have the potential to take your business to the next level. If panel speakers have written books or have websites, be sure to visit them before the conference. Most presenters have Twitter profiles to promote their events. Following their conversations before the event will help you get noticed and remembered when you introduce yourself in person. By doing your homework, you will show key influencers you’re passionate about your industry. That passion will make you stand out in a crowd.
3. Participate in Conversation. You may not like speaking in public, but don’t be afraid to ask a smart question at the end of a presentation. If you’ll be seated at a table, try to pick one that includes prospective clients or those who might refer business to you. Questions help you show a little bit about your background and area of focus. Be prepared to talk about current events and any hot topics affecting your industry. Weather and sports are easy entry points to an engaging conversation. Listen more than you speak and try to look people in the eyes when you are talking to them. Include others in the discussion whenever possible. They’ll appreciate it.
4. Prepare Questions Ahead of Time. Create a set of questions to use as conversation-starters with your ideal prospects. Remember, networking is an investment of time so it will be up to you to steer conversations in ways that will be helpful for your business. Having questions prepared in advance also helps those who get tongue-tied at large events. Thoughtful preparation will help you look your best. Don’t monopolize conversations and allow your partner to talk about the things that interest them. Just be prepared to fill awkward silences with questions that are relevant to the event.
5. Follow Up with Your Contacts and Ask to Meet Again. Since the purpose of a networking event is to develop relationships with people who can support your business, take your investment one step further by taking a proactive approach. Professionals will admire your initiative and most people will be flattered if you request a follow-up meeting. Ask to chat again to find out more about how you can help them or to identify ways the two of you could collaborate on new business. And don’t forget: sending a handwritten note or emailing a personal thank-you within three days is mandatory. Thank the person for their time, mention something you learned from them and will put into practice and don’t be shy about asking for additional referrals.
Put these tips to work now! Local networking events include:
* Business First! Tuesdays at Daniel Thielbaut restaurant, every first Tuesday, 7p.m.
* Young Professionals at KB Extreme, every first Thursday, 6p.m.
* Chamber of Commerce AfterHours events every third Wednesday, 5p.m.
Your sincere interest in another person’s business and your ability to talk intelligently about your industry will boost your networking success rate every time.
North Hawaii resident Laura Kinoshita is a certified Inbound Marketing Educator . Connect with her at http://laura-kinoshita.com.