When you enter the networking mixer do you feel like everyone is comfortably settled into clusters happily socializing and no one is aware of your presence? Do you try to make eye contact but not recognizing anyone, give up? Do you head for the food or drinks to make yourself look busy? (Walking determinedly across the room at least makes you look powerful—you hope.) Do you need some tips to make your networking pay off?
Join me in welcoming a new columnist to the Good News Network who will join us every Wednesday to explore workplace issues. Her weekly column along with a NEW discussion forum here features topics like negativity, stress, leadership, presentation skills, career advancement and networking. Welcome Marlene Chisolm to the Good News Network “Workplace Wednesday”.
Even though you were hoping to make business contacts, you’re not sure about the approach. Let’s face it, you can’t just walk up to a stranger and say, “Hey by the way I’m with A-1 Plumbing—do you have any clogged drains?” Maybe you decide to leave after 30 minutes—just too uncomfortable. Oh well, at least you showed up. Maybe it’ll be better next time.
Whether you are just out of college, in career transition or building a successful business, networking is a necessity to form lasting business relationships that lead to referrals. Here are some strategies to help you achieve the benefits of networking:
Do your research
Before you go to a networking function, decide whom you want to meet in advance and why you want to meet them. Go to your Business Journal’s Book of Lists or the membership roster to learn more about the attendees and members. If the people you want to meet have a website, visit it and when you meet them, you now have something to comment on. People are flattered when you are interested enough to find out about them before actually meeting them.
Act like a host
By calling new members of your organization before the mixer and inviting them to meet you there, you accomplish several things: You help them become acclimated into the club, you have someone to introduce around and you make a new business acquaintance that will be grateful for your leadership.
Become a resource person by thinking ahead of how you can help others get leads and referrals. Make a mental note of how to get these contacts together. Go one step further by making a few phone calls before the meeting so you can facilitate the introductions.
Take your business cards
I have been to so many functions where someone could have had my business or a good lead, but they didn’t have a card. The excuses range from running out to being in a career transition—all the more reason to have at least a generic model. If you are in transition or a graduating college student, chances are you are looking for a position. Have a plain card with your name, phone number and e-mail. If you want to be creative you might also include a favorite quote. It will serve as a conversation piece or an icebreaker.
Get their card
Novices at networking regularly fail to ask others for their card. A rule of thumb: if they ask for your card it means they are interested. Return the request immediately by asking for theirs and jot down any information on the back of the card that might jog your memory later. It’s actually more important to get their card because that puts you in a position of control if you decide you need to contact them in the future.
Focus on the relationship
Even though it’s important to exchange business cards, the purpose of networking isn’t a competition to collect business cards, nor is it to conduct business. The focus should be on meeting new people and establishing new business and professional relationships.
Polish your communication skills
Be in the present moment by using good eye contact and smiling. It’s rude to stare, but it’s also impolite to have darting eyes suggesting that there is someone more interesting across the room. Listen and ask questions more than you speak. No one wants to be around a know-it-all or a bore. Read body language. Recognize that if someone is rubbing their neck, yawning or has darting eyes, they are probably bored or simply lack good communication skills. Make a gracious exit.
Let others join in
There is nothing more miserable than to be standing outside a circle of people who are so engrossed in conversation that you feel ignored. Become observant to those who seem lost and invite them into the conversation by saying, “join us…we were just talking about…” Then at an appropriate time introduce yourself to them and introduce them to the group.
Get out of your comfort zone
Visit briefly with old friends but don’t cling to them. Instead look for ways to introduce each other to new acquaintances. Recognize that the more people you meet the more comfortable and fun it will be in the future and the more people you know, the more business opportunities you create. Discuss this topic in the FORUM!
Marlene Chism MA works with companies that want to stop the drama so that teamwork and productivity can thrive. She offers a self study eBook to help you introduce yourself with impact, eliminate the networking no-no’s, know when to offer your business card, and hold people’s attention. Marlene’s Strategic Networking eBook is found online here.