Best practices for event networking

  The other day I stuck a discussion topic into a number of Linkedin Groups of which I am a member.

The question I posted was

"Please help me understand the Art of Networking at Events".

I also told everyone that I was running this discussion on various groups and promised that I would report back on what came up during the discussions.

What I am really after is to learn some of the individual success formulas and/or secrets that people are willing to share about what works best for them.

I don't know about you, but after reading many books and networking-related blog posts, I feel that most of the stuff I find comes down to the same old 'Networking Fluff'.

Don't get me wrong here, there is much valuable information out there, but what the experiment is all about is to find out what works for real people. Especially the ones that have to find hacks around their shy nature.

In other words, we are tying together insights from 2 different dimensions, this blog and Linkedin groups.

For all the trekkies out there: 'It's a discussion Jim, but not as we know it'

So, here's what came back so far.

Federico

Here is a list of what works out for me at networking events:

  • Dress appropriately for the event you are attending
  • Carry enough business cards in your pocket (I've seen people that forget to bring some!?).
  • Don’t focus in the first part to speak about business, be open to talk about other things (NOT about Politics, NOT about wars, NOT about too personal details, don’t talk negative about your competitors, don’t slag about other attendees of the event).
  • Be open and interested about the person you are talking to.
  • Introduce people you know to each other. This will bring you to a state of an open and good networker.
  • Also talk with your worst competitors and send good “vibes”.
  • Be all time charismatic and enthusiastic
  • Don’t get drunk! I saw a lot of this at some events!
  • Be polite!
  • Talking to a prospect, be open, ask the right questions but do not be too pushy and ask for to meet him/her in the next times to talk more about mutual business.
  • Listen, Listen and Listen!!
  • Search and look for other good Networkers at the event, you will easily find them and get in touch with them. I personally like to approach people like me, they are not afraid to introduce you to other attendees.
  • Ask the host if there are people he/she can introduce you.
  • Have a good time!
  • The day after (no longer than 2 days) send the people you have meet at the event a “great to have seeing you” e-mail to EVERYBODY (even your competitors!). Your prospect should be called also within 2 days and ask for an appointment!

That is my way!

Paul

Ask good questions. “What do you do?” “Tell me about your company?” and “How long have you been with your company/this industry/this association?” are all typical openers and they get typical answers, Boring. Try a few other questions instead:

“What business problem does your company solve?” “What is the best example you have of how you are doing that?”

“What has been the biggest win for you/your company in the last six months?” “What do you think it will be in the next six months?”

“What is the most interesting initiative you have planned at your company this year?” “How will that change your company the most?”

The point is that you want to have provoking questions that initiate conversation out of the norm. These questions should give you that. Once they have answered the questions, you have just one more to ask, “That’s great, is there some way I can help you?”

Exit gracefully. I watched a real pro work a room at a cocktail party the other night. She would introduce herself, ask a question or two, ask if she could help and then she would simply put her hand out to shake hands and say, “It has been so nice to spend a few minutes getting to know you, I hope you have a great spring.” She would smile graciously and just move on. She took the initiative to introduce, she controlled the conversation with a few questions, and then she exited. There is a courtesy to be observed at a networking event that involves not monopolizing someone’s time. This rhythm that she set was the right tempo to accomplish what a networking event should accomplish.

Since I read this on the web somewhere I translated same to my environment and will always ask some of the questions with great result.

Michelle

I always get there early! You will be amazed that if you are there early (before the hosts) you can get the event to take place around you. Usually the hosts come and greet you, offer for them to sit and have a drink and meet them and as people arrive they all want to come thank the host/sponsor of the event. By that time you are in your goove and have established yourself and probably have several "relationships" already building!! Works for me!

 

Harshal

The most important thing at any networking event is to "LISTEN" Keep your ears open.  Listen to the names, companies, discussions, topics anything and everything going on in the event. Everyone is there to network and find people with interest. Only if you are a good listener you can understand the focus point of the group you are approaching and join in with an advantage.

Completely Agree with Michelle that it is good to arrive early. Another advantage of being one of the first people is that the few people who are there are looking to start a conversation. This makes your approach much easier and by the time the crowd flows in you have already made a few "Friends" which gives you the confidence to move around.

 

Peter

Same goal to be early for a prospect visit--shoot for at least 15 minutes early. This will impress a prospect - your company is on time and if he has the time to meet you early, you probably helped him catch up with his day. It works as a true win/win and makes a great first impression.

 

Mark

I have learned in a one-on-one conversation that asking "Where do you grow up?" opens doors. I heard it a long time ago and have used it time and again. People generally like to talk about it and it fuels additional conversations. It's a little hard to control when you have a group but in small groups (2 - 3 people) I've found it very interesting. It's already been said that people like to talk about themselves.

 

Eve

I love networking and believes that everyone of us has something to contribute among each others one way or another in our society.

Apart from listening which was the #1 key trait in any social event, as it will allow us to have a chance in contributing. I do think having an open mind is important as well. This gives an opportunity to widen our network and welcome others who might have something new to share with us.

As an example: when a group gets too comfortable chatting with each other, most people tend to stick around for the rest of the time. They often practice the same if they revisit the same event next time around too.

A networking event, is a great channel to expand our network to meet new people outside our normal circle of life.  My suggestion is, do take the relationship further post the networking session. Be it meeting up for a meal, drink or other activities once the initial connection being established at the event.

 

Harshal

"What I have experienced in some of the networking events I have been to is that people approach a group on the size assuming they are missing out on something and become a part of that conversation which sometimes is not even closely related to their interest or work domain. Like they Say "getting in is easy getting out difficult" So always have a polite exit strategy in such situations to move out of the group and look for something that is actually valuable to you. "

"Also try and gauge if the people in the group are having a open discussion or not. Its not very good when you try to join a conversation and end up realizing that the group is discussing their last golf outing. "

Plan what you want to discuss with people and keep it simple. introduce yourself, get to know about the other person, see if there is a scope for mutually beneficial partnership exchange cards and move on. You are there to Network not to close deals that will follow. 

Most important I feel is when you join a conversation ensure that you introduce yourself and let them know if your there just to listen or want to be a part of the conversation so that you presence is not ignored and uncomfortable in the group."

Harshal, so true about that herd mentality that many of us allow to run our lives, so very well put where the crowd draws a crowd. The opposite may actually work better: you may be doing a small group a big favor by providing some discussion diversification, provided the group sends the signals its open to new joiners.

 

Peter J.

Breaking in at an event - when 2 people are standing very closely face to face and talking, it is usually a private conversation. If one person is standing more open, come into the open space and make eye contact and normally that person will know that you want to introduce yourself. On way is to say " I couldn't help but hear what you were talking about...I have seen that same thing... I am ..." You are in to talk, not sell. It is networking and making relationships that you will further develop later.

Angus

Make random connections - I tend to jump at any chance to network - not just with the people I think might be directly linked with my business but also with those where I can't quite see the connection. I'm a big fan of starting a relationship without knowing where it's going - the number of occasions where casual conversations have developed into prospects separated by two or three degrees has been surprising - don't discount those who aren't immediately connected to you.

Introduce people - I try and make introductions between people on a a daily basis - whether it's a recruiter looking for a specific skill set and someone looking to move jobs who fits the bill or a young designer producing the kind of work that a marketing manager would find interesting. People remember these connections and often return the favor  Doing this at events - introducing people (even to competitors) is a very powerful tool.

Rapport first pitch second - I'm not a big fan of the hard sell. I always think the relationship should come first at a networking event. Rapport is crucial. Find some common ground first, even if it's a small thing, before you talk about what you do. Let them ask you about your company/background/product rather than launching a hard sell elevator pitch. They are there to network too - they will ask eventually.

Offer them something interesting as a next step - Offering something that can be beneficial to them has proved a strong tactic. I initiated my own networking event for young professionals working for hedge funds in London. I invite the people I meet at other events to this on a regular basis. I manage this quite actively which means I can be the nodal point in the network. People like being offered the chance the network - especially when it's free - so they are grateful for the invitation and this is a great opportunity to see them again.

Follow up - Once you're back in the office make sure you drop the person you've met an email or a quick call just to acknowledge the fact that you enjoyed meeting them and would like to continue talking to them. Strike while the iron's hot here - an email 2+ weeks later sometimes means the personal connection is not so warm..

Get to know the organizers - I couldn't agree more about this point made on your blog. This has been one of the most powerful tools I have found at events. Take the time develop a relationship. They are nodal points themselves and having a good relationship means they go out of the way to introduce you to people - a powerful endorsement in itself.  Additionally you get the inside track on the where/who/when of the event or next event which can be very useful. It also means you receive the early/discount invitation and sometimes even the last minute freebie when there's one going spare!

Enjoy it - Finally - have fun. By having a network developed and enjoying it you know that you are going to walk into a room and know at least a few people who you like, have a relationship with and enjoy spending time with. If you're comfortable and confident relationships will grow exponentially out of this.

 

Andrew

I think a lot of my thoughts have already been covered here, but I think the key to all networking is feeling okay about the following 3 steps. 

1. Everyone else is there to network but often they're feeling a bit self conscious about starting conversations with strangers, so you have to take the initiative about approaching strangers and chatting. In order to do this, you need to be genuinely interested in finding out about them. This doesn't come naturally to everyone, so if you're a bit shy or can't think of anything to say, have a bog standard opener that makes everyone feel okay about the social awkwardness in the room. i.e. 

"hello, I'm Andrew from [company] ... sorry, you know how it is at networking events, I'm just diving in here to say hi, great conference so far..." that kinda thing normally gets the 

"yes it is" or "I know" type of answer and breaks the ice. 

2. You need to be genuinely interested in what other people do for a living. I've been working in agencies for about twenty years and then in social media, so I'm used to it - but again it's not easy for everyone. I always view every networking chat to get top dollar insider insight on a company and corporation and what it's like to work there, so it's very useful. Remember what people tell you as well (and stuff from conference panels) because that gives you something to talk about... 

"So what brings you here?"  "So you're based in Luxembourg? My mate lives there... nice city"  "I'm getting the impression that regulation is the big topic at this conference, is that hitting your job hard right now?"  "Loved that presentation by Philip Brown.. is your team doing that kind of thing?" 

Then you can take all that great insight and use it in your next chat. You also learn a lot...

3. It's okay to move on and meet someone else - that's why you're there. There's nothing worse than getting caught by the bar with the same person for an hour. This happens a lot because people that don't like networking will cling onto the one person they've had a friendly chat with, who is genuinely interested in them... like a safety blanket. The best approach is to (as with step one) be honest and call it like it is 

"Great chatting with you... do you have a card" (subtle end of chat signal)  "Listen, my boss it expecting me to get round the room so I gotta go network... nice chatting with you - maybe see you later for a coffee / beer?" (less subtle but doesn't bruise any egos) 

You'll notice I haven't talked much about my work or pitched anything. That's because your best chance of that kind of engagement has to come from them. If they don't ask about you, they're probably not someone who develops that kind of business contact so no point in pushing it. Just recognize the signal and move on to the next person. 

If what they do relates to what you do, a sales chat can develop as a natural part of the conversation, but in my experience a lot of people who have been sent to an event are in a defensive mode when it comes to sales, so don't spend to much time on them if sales is your target. 

My view is actually sales is less important than contacts, building a social business network will yield value later on as the people you meet transmit your contact details through their own organisation... eventually they'll mention you to the right person - and they're more likely to do that if they perceive you as a nice, personable guy who was genuinely interested in them without trying to sell them something.

And finally, the best networking tip is take Michael with you ;)"

Michael

"Andrew, I am Irish. We cannot accept compliments and we complain if we do not get them!  Lets just be honest about networking, everyone is different.

Networking is common sense. All sales and networking comes down to personalities and building rapport. In sales and business it can be categorized as the following 4 personalities: assured, precise, kind and energized.

If you want to network successfully one MUST comprehend the above 4 adjectives. There is not any point in introducing an energized person such as yourself to a assured person, you will not hit it off -guaranteed - I must introduce you to one of the 25% of energized persons at any given event.

Four corners of any event room:

Networking in a nutshell means introducing the kind to kind (good for a drink yet will return to the assured corner for a decision or their marketing persons -also good for introducing you to the other 3 categories)

In the other corner introduce the assured to the assured and they will get along and do business.

In the third corner you have the precise to the precise, create that for them whereby they can discuss the details.

And of course, there is the energized, these are the creatives - the trick of the energized is to recognize that we are typically solo, so must endeavor to not only be creative yet to understand above.

If you come across a person who presents all of the above mentioned traits (example -Baldwin) then you are dealing with a natural Networker and you either listen to them or battle them.

In your next event try introduce precise to precise, kind to kind, assured to assured and kind to kind. And then you will not need me with you, reflect on any persons I ever introduced you too, and ask where they energized persons also? Did you get along and potentially engage in business? :) thanks for the compliment, means a lot!

Baldwin

Michael, thanks for the kind words! Thank you even more for the wisdom you bring to this discussion. We are clearly in your space here!

Alina

" I guess that the feeling of self-confidence is the best thing for good networking, To gain it you heed to be well-prepared." Alina, makes total sense. I hope you can shed more light on how you prepare for these events! 

Michael

I have actually networked with Michael, he is one of the best I have ever seen in action. I can tell you that what he says is actually what he does (he did it to me!). Its interesting to see it all laid out in words. Check out the 'invisible man approach'

"Create for oneself a mindset that you are an invisible man from the outset. 'You can see everyone although nobody can see you'. Practice this style of thinking and it will help with confidence and positive thinking."

Absorb the event information as early as possible, what gifts are available from stands (telling someone who is hot that another stand have hand held fans) note what drinks receptions are on and where lunches are held.

Develop a rapport with an event person as a source of information and a quick reference point.

Attend to speaking sessions and listen. Approach the speakers afterwards and give them your thoughts on their presentation, build a rapport with the speakers and you might become a magnet.

Refrain from the norm - I often laugh to myself when I note 5 or 6 persons swarming around and trying to manoeuvre to talk to speaker 3 'the decision maker'! when speaker 6 has only two persons. develop a rapport with speaker 6 and then ask speaker 6 to introduce you to speaker number 3

Refrain from approaching a speaker unless you have watched their presentation.

Develop two or three trusted allies whom you like. Use these (same level of seniority) to share and collaborate information on others.

These are your counsels. You can return to them at any time, during busy coffee breaks you will never be left twiddling your thumbs which will knock your confidence n.b.(not people from your own company -one spends enough time with such persons).

Use events for networking and not selling. Use events for learning about people and not telling!

Have a realistic figure on day one or hour one - (if a one day event) of how many people you want to develop as allies.

Make sure you treat mid level executives with the same courtesy and respect as senior level executives, because mid level executives opinions count at events after they develop rapports with the decision makers and hot people.

Fantastic insights here! I've actually found it very helpful to help the organizers as much as I can. What events in our industry want above anything else is to be attended by investors, they get to come for free so I've learned that it is a great idea to invite them to come along as your guest. I have been positively surprised at how much these people actually appreciate a gesture like that. When they do come along, they do so as my guests and that is always very special.

Some people may be thinking 'What a stupid idea to bring your clients to a place where your competitors will be!'  That always makes me laugh a bit. Do people really think they can keep your clients away from your competitors? The way I see it: If you have the balls to bring your clients to a place where your competitors are, it put you in a very strong position in the eyes of your clients. I guess it is the ultimate expression of confidence. Call me crazy, but that is what I believe.

 

 

Paul

 "I use some simple questions and listen, listen.... its based on some fluff on the web but it really works ..."

Paul, I guess you are right that sometimes it is just as simple matter of facilitating a conversation by just listening. Most people are actually shy at events, so if you can open up a conversation, you are making things happen for them. You often hear about the psychological experiments where people provide feedback on others they have met and where they tend to find that the most fascinating people were actually the ones that listened to them the most.

 

Peter J.

Adding to Paul's comment "just listen and a conversation topic will emerge and usually lead to another topic--then when some level of comfort is achieved you might ask in a soft way for the info you want.."

Indeed Peter, I guess this has a lot to do with the fact that when people sense you are really interested in them, they will be eager to support you. That is why it is important to really listen to others...

 

Laura

"Networking is always about what you can do for the other person. When I meet someone, I ask probing questions about them and their business, and then see if I have anything to offer them. Its all about connecting and building a relationship. People love to talk about themselves, so I always try to find a connection and build on that."

Laura, the art of listening makes for good business. I recently heard a definition for 'entrepreneur' that I really liked: "A person who solves a problem at a profit margin" Good listening helps detect problems to be solved. Simple as that!

 

 

Richard

"As ever a very solid topic for discussion. I'd start by stressing the value of the infamous 'elevator pitch', the confidence to articulate this and having prepared in advance of the event.

Very much dependant on the size of the event, people can frustratingly become engaged in small talk over utterly pointless topics of conversation. Of course you should always be polite and courteous, but the event offers you a unique opportunity to meet future business partners, clients etc face to face, and these opportunities should be seized. Be straight to your point. Remember you are all at the event to further business relations. 

For less seasoned officials, one of the issues is normally the confidence to interject in a conversation already taking place, or simply grab the attention of an attendee who is milling over the canapés. Remember you are all at the event to further business relations. 

Finally, if possible have a list of attendees and figure out a hit list of persons you want to grab. Ensure you get some time with these people. Anyone else offering business opportunity is a bonus. Remember you are all at the event to further business relations.

Richard is on a different group that all the conversations above and look how the 'strong confidence thanks to good preparation' comes back in his advice. You are right, we go to events to further business relationships.

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