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I’m often asked by other entrepreneurs how I grew my public-relations business and how I gain new clients. There are several examples I can share, but I usually start with one answer they don’t expect. I talk about the importance of attending networking events.
What’s great about networking events is that they work for you no matter if you’re a new business or one with a long history. You can be a novice or an expert, yet you potentially have the same opportunity to meet meaningful contacts as every other person in the room.
Before I walk into a networking event, I pump myself up with a simple thought: There’s one person in the room that I’m supposed to meet. That person may someday in the future refer me to someone who becomes a client, or he or she may directly become a client themselves. The hard part is figuring out who in the room it is that I need to meet. Further complicating the task is that I’m only going to stay an hour or two at the event. Meaning, I need to be efficient to meet as many people as I can before I leave.
To meet your goals and get the most out of networking events, here are eight networking tips that have worked for me and can work for you, regardless of if you’re new to networking or consider yourself an expert.
Related: 5 Tips for Stress-Free Networking
1. Network like you’re snorkeling
If you’re snorkeling and you swim out in a group, you might scare away the fish instead of attracting them. In comparison, if you go off on your own and remain still, the fish will come to you. If you’re uncomfortable walking up to strangers, plant yourself at a waist-high bar table in a traffic-heavy area of the room and people will start introducing themselves to you.
2. Look for people standing by themselves at a table or along the wall
Everyone attending a networking event is there to meet people. If you don’t know where to go or whom to talk to, look for people waiting for someone to walk up to them. They’ll appreciate that you took the first step.
3. Follow the KISS Method
Not that kind of kiss! KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid. You’re not trying to get a date or impress anyone, so don’t worry about having a smart pick-up line. “Hi my name is…” is a fine opener. Have a simple back-up question like “Have you been to this event before?” or “Are you excited for the big sports game this week?” to try and get a conversation started. Don’t talk about work; that’ll come soon enough on its own. Just try to make a personal connection when first meeting someone.
4. The shorter the better
The point of a networking event is to talk to as many people as possible, so don’t stay with anyone too long. Five to ten minutes should be the max. If you’re only talking to one person, invite him or her to join you in walking over to a bigger group. If you’re already in a bigger group, it’s often easy to pivot your body to welcome others in or get someone else in your line of sight and quickly take a few steps towards him or her to move into the next closest group. No one will be offended that you didn’t say goodbye, especially if he or she is in the middle of a conversation with someone else when you slip away.
5. Focus on the connection, not the sale
No one is going to buy what you’re selling during the networking event. Your goal is to make a connection so that you can follow up with the person after the event. Let him or her talk as much as possible. The more you learn about the person, the stronger the connection and, likely, the more he or she will like you.
6. Collect business cards selectively
It’s not a contest to get or give out the most business cards. You’re only looking for cards from people you think you might want to talk to again. The reason may simply be that you liked talking to them, or you hope to do business with them, or that they might be a good referral source for you. After you take someone’s card, write down something from the conversation on the back so that you can email the person about it later. It can be a favorite sports team or something the person said about his or her kids.
7. Give out business cards thoughtfully
Every card you give out might get you added to another email list or result in you getting calls where they try to sell you on their product. If you someone asks for your card, you likely need to give it out of courtesy. That doesn’t mean you need to offer your card to someone if you have no interest in talking to the person again.
8. Shake hands with the important people
You don’t need to know the person or even have a conversation with them. If you see an elected official, the event host or an important business leader in the room, be sure to shake his or her hand. Just walk up when he or she is talking to someone else, put your hand out and say it’s nice seeing him or her at the event and walk away. He or she will assume you’ve met in the past and that he or she simply forgot your name. After a few events of doing this, that person will start to recognize your face, and before you know it, will be walking up to you and striking up a conversation.
Networking is a long game, not about closing a sale immediately. The best networkers are consistent and repetitive, but not pushy. Going to the same event month after month, saying hello to the same people and ultimately getting remembered should be the goal when attending networking events. It’s only once you’re truly remembered that the people you build relationships with are more likely to really pay attention to what it is you do, and only then will they work to figure out a way to work with you because they finally feel like they know (and trust) you.
And most importantly, smile! You’re supposed to be having fun at these events! So get out there, relax, shake hands and enjoy the experience.