For the majority of business owners, the idea conjures up discomfort: images of making small talk while balancing cheese cubes and warm white wine in one hand and fumbling for a business card in the other.
Despite the fear, when done right, meeting the right people and shaking the right hands can be the most effective and important tool in achieving success.
Here are five tips that can transform networking from pain to profit:
Practice Your Elevator Pitch
You’ve got 30 seconds to interest somebody in you and your business before they check their phone for messages. If you fumble or stammer or are inexact, you’ve lost that golden opportunity.
There are two questions in particular that you need to address—what is your competitive advantage and what can you do to make your listener’s business more successful. Answer those questions and your audience will want to continue the conversation. Write it down. Make it clear, compelling and relevant. Practice it. If you can’t do that effectively and effortlessly—if you can’t focus your brand with a laser-sharp intensity—then you’ll be forever lost in a cloud of elevator chatter.
Stress Quality over Quantity
You’ve spent the money on registration; you’ve booked the hotel and rented a car. You’ve invested your money in this…now do the research. Who’s speaking? Who’s attending? Go online or contact the organizers and find out. Find those people who you want to meet, Google them, find out how your histories, your business outlooks or your interests overlap and use that information as an ice-breaker. When you get to the event, make a beeline to them, locked and loaded.
Don’t think that your success lies in how many business cards you’ve given away. Judge your success on how many real conversations you’ve had. It is far better to have three real conversations than to meet and exchange cards with thirty people who had no real interest in your business. How do you define “real”? It usually means there is at least one way that you can plant the seed for a mutually beneficial relationship with that person. The rest can build from there.
Distinguish Networking vs. Schmoozing
The most common fatal error people make is not understanding the difference between networking and schmoozing. Walking up to somebody at an industry gathering and talking about the food at the buffet or your hometown is a good icebreaker but it’s not networking—it’s schmoozing.
Networking efforts need to start with a focus. It’s all about aiming your efforts toward your goal and staying focused on what it is you are trying to achieve along the way. You have a limited time with these people—make it count. You can share baby pictures later.
Perfect Humble Bragging
Getting to the right people is one thing. Making the connection is another. Learn how to let people know about your accomplishments without looking like a self-consumed jerk. In a situation like this, with everybody vying for attention, it’s easy to step over the line into being pretentious—and nothing will turn your audience off faster. It is amazing when somebody is talking about them self and doesn’t notice the annoyance or boredom around them, or starts rattling off irrelevant numbers, or acts like they did it all by themselves. That business card goes straight in the garbage.
- Be interesting: Tell a story – tell yourunique story. Make it engaging and entertaining. Stories connect you to your listeners. They will feel that they got to know you as an authentic person and they will remember you.
- Be aware of your audience: Look in their eyes or at their body posture. If you sense your listener’s attention is wandering, it probably is. Maybe you’re hogging the discussion. It’s a conversation, not a monologue. A good mindset is, “Don’t just be interesting. Be interested.” Actively listen. By doing so, you’ll make your audience feel good about themselves and good about you.
- Be honest about your accomplishments: Sure, share your story – your strengths, your successes – but, unless you’re actually changing the world, remember that you’re not changing the world. Don’t overinflate your accomplishments. Somebody’s bound to follow up and if your story turns out to be hollow, your reputation can be severely compromised.
Lend a Helping Hand
While you’re doing your pre-event research, ask yourself how you can help those people who you want to connect with. Once you’ve started and maintained a great conversation with them, end it by reaching out and offering your help. Not in a vague, “If you need anything call me” way, but in a specific, “I have an idea how I can help you” way. The ultimate goal is to create an ongoing and productive two-way relationship. Be proactive and take the first step.
Unfortunately, success is not strictly a question of what you know. Nor is it primarily a question of who you know. It’s all about who knows what you know. Those who can meet the right people and can share their business’ value are the ones who will thrive in this economy.