Below is Part 2 of an article I penned for NSide Texas Business Magazine:
Last week, I outlined some tried-and-true tips for jumping into the world of networking. This week, I offer my 5 top pointers for what to do once you are at a networking event.
1. Have an Agenda: Plan ahead and know the outcomes you want for every event you attend. Who are the two or three most important people you want to connect with? Connect with them early while you are on your A-game. Plan to thank the host or event organizer, registration staff, and the speaker. Be sure to take plenty of current business cards and use them judiciously.
2. Be interested (not just interesting): As with any relationship, conversations should be more about the other person than about you. By asking questions and engaging in active listening, others will share their ideas, thoughts and views and this could lead to all sorts of mutually beneficial opportunities. Ask lots of open-ended questions such as “How is business?” or “What is happening in your industry?” Remember, the quality of your interactions with others is more important than the quantity of interactions. Making a true connection, where you “click” with another person, is crucial in today’s business climate where trust and engagement are at a premium.
3. Coping for Introverts: If you are not especially comfortable networking, try this: Arrive early. After check-in, save a seat with a glasses case or bag near the center of the room, then approach someone who you see standing by themselves. Say “Good morning, my name is Samantha Smith, with ATX Consulting, nice to meet you.” Wait for them to introduce themselves. Then ask “Have you attended this event before?” That will help kick-start a natural conversation. Remember to approach people standing alone or in groups of three or more. Avoid approaching two people engaged in deep conversation.
4. Playing to Win: Try not to stand near the buffet or the bar during the event, but stand near the room entrance where you can catch people arriving while they are fresh and ready to interact. Be sure you know the end time of the event; say your goodbyes and depart promptly. Like the handshake that goes on too long, the guest that stays too long is unwelcome. Unless you are one of the hosts avoid being one of the last guests in the room (which may suggest business is bad and you have nothing else to do).
5. Finishing First: It’s always appreciated (and will help differentiate you) to follow up with a handwritten thank you note on personalized stationery to the host and event organizers. Develop a system for how to assess your new business cards before they multiply. Update your business database. Evaluate each of those connections and follow-up with select people within 24-48 hours.
Networking events can be a wonderful opportunity to show respect, build rapport and develop long-term business relationships. But like any business opportunity, these events should not be taken lightly or enjoyed without thoughtful strategy, tactics and follow-through. By following these simple guidelines, next time you attend a networking event you will be that relatable individual that others love to meet.