There you are — ready to walk into a networking function armed with your 60-second commercial and your business cards. You know you have to do this because it beats cold-calling but why are you screaming on the inside? Does this ever get any easier? Relax. There are some things you can do to make your networking worth your time and effort. These tips are meant for protecting your safety as well as your professional image. Many of these rules apply to both genders but some are extremely important for women.
Truth #1: Your purpose is to make new contacts. The nervous feeling will probably always be there and most everyone has it — but resist the urge to talk to people you already know. Harness that nervous energy and turn it into enthusiasm for your business and the new people you meet. Set a goal to meet five new people and spend six to seven minutes with each of your new contacts before moving on. After you meet that goal, feel free to talk with some people you already know and catch up on the latest news about them.
Truth #2: When you dress in a way that makes you look good on the outside, you feel good on the inside, and the result is greater confidence. Stand tall and smile — a lot! Be conscious of the setting and dress accordingly. If you are attending a lake party with business acquaintances, resist showing too much skin. My rule: don’t mix bathing suits and business.
Truth #3: You are the only one who thinks you are a goober. Yes, it’s awkward to know very few people in a networking setting. Put on your best smile and introduce yourself to people who are standing alone. You’ll know them because they are the frowning people standing against the wall clutching a beverage. You will be their hero! Of all the people you meet, those are the ones who never forget your kindness. The food line is another great place to strike up a conversation. Try walking up to someone you know if they are talking with someone casually — if they don’t introduce you to the person they are talking with, introduce yourself. My favorite technique is walk into a networking function, meet someone who is obviously new, introduce them to someone I know, and help them get their conversation started.
Truth #4: You must banish phrases like these from your vocabulary: “I just hate to speak in front of a group.” “I’m a terrible public speaker.” “This is my first time to speak in front of a group.” “I’m really not very prepared for this.” “I didn’t get much notice so I’m not very prepared.” “Sorry I didn’t dress very well this evening.” “I’m having a terrible morning.” “I apologize for these tacky brochures.” Phrases like these discredit you and waste valuable time that you could spend talking about your business. Concentrate on how much you love what you do for a living. People pay little attention to your appearance, speaking, or quality of marketing material if you are excited and genuine.
Truth #5: Listening sincerely is a genuine act of kindness that goes a long way with the other person. Spend more time asking questions about the other person’s business than talking about your business. Generally, the other person will return the favor and ask questions about your business. Be sure to get a business card. You can always send a follow-up note with some more information about your business. By learning about the other person, you’ll be able to come up with many excuses to follow-up later.
Truth #6: Personal questions are okay as long as you ask the right ones. Ask people which community they live in, how long they’ve lived there, and how they like it. Most of the time, people will offer information about their family life. Once you know if they are married, you can ask where their spouse works. You can safely ask about hobbies and current events. Part of building a good network is making new friends. Talking business is fine but people are more likely to give referrals to someone they know personally.
Truth #7: Some people aren’t just networking to enhance their business — they are also networking to enhance their personal life. Avoid conversation that is overly friendly with the opposite sex. Never complain about your spouse because this easily transitions from business to intimately personal. If the other person of the opposite sex begins to complain about their spouse, end the conversation quickly and walk away. Conversation that is too personal is a signal to some people that you aren’t happy and you become their target. Regardless of how much you need to make that contact for your business, walking away from unacceptable conversation reveals that you are a true professional. Be ready to tell someone that sometimes they are giving you too much information. Here’s a warning especially for women: women often leave networking functions alone. Avoid becoming a victim to someone who gets the wrong idea. Make sure someone knows where you are and don’t hesitate to ask someone to walk you to your car.
Truth #8: Combining alcohol and networking is a recipe for disaster. Networking functions give you many opportunities to make a good first impression. Your professional image is too important to compromise. A good rule of thumb is to not drink alcohol in a business setting or to limit it to just one glass. A drink may make you feel looser but sometimes that thing that makes you feel more comfortable makes those around you feel uncomfortable. You never know who is watching you and it would be a terrible shame if a person who could be your next big client doesn’t look fondly on alcohol consumption. Besides, if you drink too much, you override Truth #3 and everyone will think you are a goober.
Carrie Perrien Smith is the owner of Soar with Eagles (www.soarhigher.com), a performance consulting company located in Rogers, Arkansas. She also is a professional speaker who focuses on topics that equip entrepreneurs with skills and ideas that will impact their bottom line.
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