To be successful at networking first of all you cannot allow yourself to be a wallflower. Here are my personal tips for success at a networking function so that you can be prepared (which will help combat any anxiety you may have about going and meeting strangers) and come off looking and sounding smooth and successful.
1 – At home, write out a list of your strengths, attributes, special skills, etc. so that you know why someone should be interested in your services, your resume, etc. Now these strengths are in your head to boost your confidence and remind yourself of why people should talk to you or listen to you.
2 – Visualize the room; visualize smiling, shaking hands, talking to people, exchanging ideas, asking questions, exchanging cards, etc. Visualization works well, especially for shyer people, and many successful people in business, sports, entertainment etc. use visualization to get an image of a successful action before going out to the event.
3 – Show up with confident posture, a controlled walk, a smile and firm handshake, and lots of eye contact.
4 – Use the immediate environment to get the conversation started, like talking about the venue, the host, etc. and then find a common bond to keep it going. For example, talk about different networking functions you have attended, talk about any common interests regarding vacations, work, hobbies. Small talk first is normal, then get down to business.
5 – Now, have questions prepared to ask, to get people to talk about their needs, and then shape your conversation to reflect how you or your services could help in those areas. Don’t be pushy. Soft sell yourself. Build interest. For example instead of saying “I sell office insurance…do you need some?” you might instead say “Do you have your own office? What insurance rate are you paying, if I may ask? I am just wondering if you are getting the best value for your money. I am in the industry, so I am aware of the fair market value of the offices. What size of office do you have?” etc. Now they are more ready to be “helped” by you.
6 – Remember to repeat their name back to them, actively listen, and keep a mental database of some details of the person with whom you are speaking to.
7 – Always collect a business card if possible, and feel free to be the first one to ask for it. Ask with some enthusiasm and at the time when he or she has just talked about what they do or how they can help you. Smile and offer yours. Ideally, if you are talking about yourself correctly, people will ask you for your card. However, if they don’t, you may choose to offer.
8 – When you go home, write out information on the back of the card or on a sheet of paper, stapled to the card. These details help build and maintain rapport for the next and subsequent meetings, emails, and phone calls. Everyone appreciates being remembered!
9 – Email them within 24 hours to say that it was nice to meet them, and perhaps mention a detail you remember, and the suggestion to ‘keep in touch’.
10 – Unless you had already planned a meeting previously, follow up a week later and see if you can arrange a drop-by visit or a coffee, if you think this relationship has potential. It is okay to initiate contact. Be a leader!