Business Development Networking

The deWinton-Williams BD series

2 – Making a networking event a success

Some people seem to have the gift of working the room. They move from group to group, effortlessly engaging and then moving on. Believe me – they are rare. Most people need advice and nearly everyone needs training. However, if you are to avoid being the person in the corner studiously working through a brochure, hoping no-one will talk to them, then you need to force yourself into networker behaviour. The following actions will help you.

The action
What to do

Done

Walking in

You always know the reluctant networker. They shuffle around at the door, stop like a deer in the headlights, look around frantically in desperate hope of finding a friendly face, make a bee-line for the bar and sigh in relief when they see something to look at. Not a good entrance. 

Walking in is your opportunity to impress. If you walk in with confidence then people will want to talk to you. So:

  • Take a deep breath
  • Smile
  • Walk in with purpose (no shuffling!)
  • Keep your head high and shoulders down
  • Say hello to the first person you see (they always say ‘hello’ back!)
  • Get a drink so you have something in your hands
 
Getting in

Look for loosely formed groups. People in pairs or tight groups are usually deep in conversation and you will feel like an intruder. Look for a gap and walk up. Smile. Then simply ask if you can join them as you have just arrived. Introduce yourself. Join in the conversation. Nobody will think you are strange or sad. It’s a networking event – so it’s normal behaviour.

 
Impressing

It is an odd fact that human beings who speak little but ask questions to get other people talking are seen as interesting and sociable. The added value is that you take the pressure off yourself. So use your toolkit of questions created from your research (See the first article in the series – Preparing for networking). Make sure when you ask a question you also listen and follow what they say with a relevant question. If you don’t it becomes an interview and not a conversation.

 
Be generous

Like karma – what comes around goes around. If you see someone looking like the deer in the headlights and galloping to the brochure stand, ask them to join your group. Not only will you impress people with your kindness but you will swell the group and make it easier for you to move when you want to.

 
Avoid selling

I have talked to clients who tell me terrible tales of lawyers like a circle of sharks all trying to get to the prey. Networking is about engaging, profile raising and impressing – not selling. If you go into hard sell mode you will find yourself alone by the brochures. However, be ready to talk about what you do. If someone says ‘can we talk’ then use this as an opportunity to call them the next day. 

 
Take notes

Always look for opportunities to follow up. This might be with an article or connecting people. If you are lucky it is with a meeting. Whatever it is – write it down in your notebook to ensure you do not forget.

 
Card strategy

Rather than thrusting your business cards into people’s hands, just ask for theirs. They feel flattered and will then ask for yours.

 
Stories

People love stories. Have stories ready about your work; the kind of successes you have had for clients; yourself. Keep them short, sharp and interesting.

 
Getting out

It is not good to get stuck with a group for the whole evening. That is chatting not networking. If you have arrived with a target list of people to speak to you need to move around and speak to several people. Many people worry about leaving the group, thinking they will be seen as rude.  This is highly unlikely as long as you are transparent. Simply say you have enjoyed talking but…

§  ‘I have just seen a colleague and want to greet them’

§  ‘There is someone I really need to find and say hello’

§  ‘There are a few people to whom I have not said hello’

Whatever the reason, make sure you live it. Also avoid saying you are going to the toilet or the bar – neither is positive.

 
Connect people

The very best networkers are those who give more than they take. If you are talking to someone who might be of interest to someone else, walk them over and introduce them. You have made two friends.

 
Find your targets

A good networker has people they want to meet. You should have prepared for this (see Preparing for networking). This is not a time to be shy – work the room, ask people if they know your target, ask to be introduced. Make sure you do not leave disappointed with an opportunity lost. 

 
Dealing with tricky situations

It often happens – people drink too much, people get into a debate which becomes an argument, people say something inappropriate. Rule number one is to make an excuse and move away.  If it is a colleague, then move them away too. Act as the diplomat.  

 
Inappropriate behaviour

Yes – it still happens despite all the years of diversity training. If someone makes you uncomfortable just say so and walk away. You are there to politely network not as a plaything. Also, if you see a colleague looking uncomfortable – swoop in and support.

 
Follow-up

This is the critical part of a networking evening. If you do not follow-up with people the next day you will remain another face in the room. Use your notes and cards to send out mails; connect through LinkedIn; send out information, connect people to other contacts in your network. You need to be the person who gives more than you take. In time, the favour will be repaid.