The Seven Rs of Networking
1 – Get Ready
Not everyone is naturally extroverted and even if you are, entering a room full of strangers and trying to strike up conversations can be daunting. Hopefully, the below will provide a few tips that can help you make the most out of your next industry event.
2 – Do your Research
I always like to spend a bit of time pre-event checking out the vendors, sponsors and likely attendees, then jotting down a few target companies that I’ll try to connect with. Is there a specific solution you’re looking for? Are you on the hunt for new customers? Partners? Maybe even a new job? Knowing who’s going to be there and who you’re going to try and meet with will give your networking some added purpose, rather than just aimlessly wandering the room.
3 – Be in the Right place
Now that you’re at the event, you’ve had your coffee and have a pocket full of business cards – it’s time to get networking. It’s important that you project an image of availability (no, I don’t mean it like that). It means not being buried in your phone, eyes down, ignoring the room. Or slouching up against the wall, or sitting away from everyone on a couch. To effectively network you need to be in the game and so why not strike up a conversation with the person sitting next to you before the keynote starts? Visit one of the vendors on your target list? I always find I meet more people when I look like I actually want to meet more people – so being in the right place to do so is important.
4 and 5 – Be Relevant and React to what they’re saying
I’m putting these two together because for me, this is really the essence of networking – actually, of engaging with people full stop. Whilst it’s nice to have a chat about the weather and try to ensure you’re getting your point across, you’ll have much more success in connecting with people when you talk about mutually interesting topics and for this, you need to listen. Rather than just waiting until the other person stops talking so you can have your say, take the time to really listen and then respond with a relevant follow-up question that shows that you’re genuinely interested. This could be about their business, why they’re at the event, what they hope to achieve etc. Some of the best connections I’ve made in the industry have started from random conversations with people I’ve met in the coffee queue.
6 – Reflect and follow-up post event
The conference is over, you’ve got a pocket full of business cards and a bag full of swag, so now what? How long should you leave it before you follow-up? (and you definitely do need to follow-up). Here I’ll give the age-old consultants’ response of “it depends”. If you really connected with someone and agreed to touch base early next week, then that’s what you do. Phone first if you can, follow-up with an email or LinkedIn request. But again – be relevant. Why do you feel there might be a mutual fit? Did you discuss a specific angle or opportunity, or was it just “we should stay in touch”. Whilst the latter is nice, I would much prefer to have 10 specific, directed discussions with new contacts rather than 100 random connections. This is also a good time to reflect upon what you learnt at the event and how you’ll start to make use of the information in your business. Maybe write-up your thoughts in a blog, hold a debriefing session for your team or even invite the new vendors you met to come a give a deep dive into their technology.
7 – if all else fails, there’s always the Red wine at the cocktail party and a little bit of liquid courage never hurt anyone.
Good luck with your own networking and if you happen to see a middle-aged guy with brown hair, jeans, blue shirt and jacket standing next to you in the queue at your next event, then make sure to say hi.
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