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Networking That Produces Results--How to Work That Room!

Jun 24, 2008
Are you one of those people who shudder at the thought of attending networking events? As if your daily schedule and life itself wasn't stressful enough, you are also now expected to shine as you network and gather all those business cards and leads from complete strangers.

What if you feel really introverted and awkward in those environments? What if you've attended networking events before and just weren't very effective? There is light at the end of the tunnel - and it doesn't come from the headlamp of the approaching train!

I used to feel that way too. I'd convinced myself that I was too shy and introverted to go to networking events (or in fact any event that required mingling with strangers) and the thought alone made me extremely anxious and flustered. I started to overcome those feelings by repeatedly reminding myself that the people I would meet had no preconceived ideas about me. They had no idea that I thought I was shy. So I started faking confidence. I would attend events and mentally prepare to go "on stage" as soon as I arrived. I would walk in acting like a person who is outgoing and confident. Within only a few seconds of doing that something in my brain kicked in, and I was no longer pretending. Confidence and poise was actually coming naturally. I had overcome the first obstacle: my negative mental block.

Now, that is all well and good, but "first" implies that there are more! I also had to learn a number of other techniques to help me. I am delighted to share them with you today in this article, and help you to overcome your fears of stepping into a room full of strangers.

Seven Tricks of the Trade

Arrive in good time. Slipping in just as the event is beginning is bad manners and gives other attendees the wrong impression of you right from the offset. Most of all it also adds to your stress and anxiety (and you want to minimise that, right?). Plan to arrive 15 to 20 minutes earlier. This will give you time to catch your breath and gather your thoughts. You may even have a better opportunity of meeting the host and breaking the ice with them. Don't be scared to tell them that you are new to the group and keen to meet many others. You'll be surprised at how relaxed you feel after telling someone that!

Be prepared for small talk. Have some interesting topics to talk about and share. If you regularly read the newspapers and other relevant industry journals you will keep in tune with current or local interest affairs and give you something interesting to contribute to the conversation.

Develop your "Verbal Signature™". When somebody asks "So, what do you do?" this isn't where you rattle off the entire contents of your C.V. or tell them your job title. Rather it is a brief synopsis or sound-bite of the kind of work you do and who you do it with. A good verbal signature will pique interest and move others to ask you for more information. (Incidentally, Zee2a are experts at helping our clients develop great verbal signatures - don't be shy to ask for our help!)

Share the attention. As much as you are there to let others know about you and what you do, you will be a far more effective networker if you take turns both talking and listening. Allow others to tell you about themselves and what they do. Ask open questions and actively listen. It also gives you the opportunity to clarify whether this is someone with whom you want to explore business opportunities further.

Move around and meet people. Your main purpose at a networking event should be to meet and interact with new people. If you arrive with a colleague don't hide in their shadow. If they are talking with people you aren't familiar with, get introduced, otherwise move around the room and talk to others. Likewise don't get stuck for the entire event talking with only one new person. Tactfully mention that you would like to continue meeting new people at this event. You could even ask them to join you as you circulate. If they present an opportunity that you would like to explore further, set up an appointment immediately and then move on.

Follow up. This is such a crucial element to networking. What is the point of going to the event in the first place, and collecting wads of business cards, if you don't have an efficient follow-up system in place? If you promised to call, then call. Not within a month. Not within a week. Do it the next day. If you made any promises then for goodness sake make good on them.

Build bridges, don't burn them. Perhaps you spoke to a number of people with whom you don't see an immediate benefit. The event was still a great use of your time. Nurture that contact and build a relationship (that is the greatest point of networking, isn't it?). Keep in touch. Down the line you may have just the product or service they need. Or you land up needing them. They may even refer you to others in their network that are looking for exactly what you offer.

I am certain that these great tips will help you immediately at the next networking event that you attend. Be sure to read my follow-up article "Are You Fishing in the Wrong Pond?" where I'll discuss three essential elements that absolutely have to be at the forefront of any networking that you do.

©Vanessa Deakin and Zee2A Limited 2008.

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About the Author
Vanessa Deakin, Operations Director at Zee2A, works with Professional Service Executives frustrated and disappointed with their current growth rates, marketing efforts and business profitability. She helps them to skyrocket their results and break their own best records. To learn more or sign up for her e-zine, please visit www.zee2A.com.
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