Looking to expand your business, attain new business contacts, or gain a couple of referrals? If you answered yes to any of the following, then networking is the answer for you. Networking events can provide all of that, and so much more. For some, these events can seem intimidating. In a room full of unfamiliar faces, the idea of striking up a conversation can be daunting. But it doesn’t have to be stressful; here are my 7 networking tips to sharpen your skills before your next event.
Step 1: Define your goals
Arrive at every networking event with clear intentions. Ask yourself what you aim to accomplish during these conversations. Are you looking for business contacts? Information on a particular industry? New customers? Whatever it may be, planning ahead will help you get the most out of your interactions. Plus, by preparing some topics beforehand, the discussions will flow more naturally and efficiently.
Step 2: Arrive early
Beat the crowd by showing up 10 minutes early. You’ll be the first person people meet, and chances are, the one they remember. In addition, arriving early gives you the opportunity to have more intimate conversations with smaller groups of people. These “one-on-ones” prove invaluable when making your first impression, so be sure to get started before the masses arrive.
Step 3: Avoid yes or no questions
As tempting as it is to jump into small talk, vague questions won’t help form the basis for a deeper conversation. Keep the discussion flowing with broad questions. It will give you a chance to respond and build off what others say, creating a more organic interaction. Brainstorm some open-ended questions before your next event, that way you’re never stuck chatting about the weather.
Step 4: Move around
If you notice yourself doing most of the talking, it might be time to move on. Dragging out a long discussion is painful for all parties. So read the signals and politely exit the conversation when its time. Try to create as many conversations as you can; you never know which one will prove valuable in the future.
Step 5: Offer a helping hand
A business relationship is a two-way street. So before you ask your new connections for tips and favors, ask first what you can do for them. Put yourself in their place, and try to understand their goals. Whether it’s a piece of advice or an offer to collaborate, always give before you receive. People remember acts of kindness, and are more likely to pay it forward in the future.
Step 6: Be yourself
The key to forming long lasting relationships is authenticity and trust. It’s important to show people that you are a genuine person worth keeping around. So skip the elevator pitch, and talk about your personal goals and interests instead.
Step 7: Always follow up
Making a connection is easy, but maintaining them is the hard part. After meeting a potential new contact, be sure to reach out afterwards. Bring up some of the points or topics you discussed, or offer to continue the conversation at a future date. Approach each new business relationship with optimism and generosity, in order to make it productive for both sides.