One of the top reasons for attending a conference is networking. Swapping cards and showing industry peers that your face is the face of your company and that you are open for business. Increasing your circle of influence through face to face contact and nurturing those contacts is still the number one way to expand your client base.
Consistency and persistence with networking is the key to success – the old school sayings about taking hard knocks, getting back on that horse and practice makes perfect are still very much alive in this field. For some it looks easy, even natural and contacts seem to line up to hand over their A list card, but for others it can be a sweaty palmed, fumbling, stumbling nightmare where generic cards are hard won.
Networking can be as easy as you make it or as hard as you make it – the choice is up to you. Preparation is always a confidence builder, as is applying a few skills.
1) It’s not about you (it is really but you won’t get the results you want by being too obvious about it)
Develop the mind set of “I am going to find out about people – their business and their interests”. This takes a lot of pressure off feeling like you are going in for the hard sell or feeling like you have to impress. Most people like talking about themselves and those that don’t still feel comfortable talking about their business. Focus on them first by asking questions, be genuine, make good eye contact, don’t interrupt, remember what they said ( this will come in handy later) and then lead the conversation to your field so you can have your turn. It is not required to immediately try to do business with this person, just find common ground.
2) A solid contact is engineered not spontaneous.
Know who you need to meet at the conference venue or networking event. Remember that you don’t have to go for the jugular, besides the top players can be hard to get quality time with and while you lurk in the background waiting for your chance to pounce your credibility will start to dwindle. Court the connected players and look for an introduction to the kingpin through a 3rd party and if it comes with a bit of edification, the quality of the contact will be enhanced.
Placement and timing are also important – if you are trying to network while your prospect is trying to snag the last piece of sushi, you will only get lip service at best. Wait until the registration has been signed, gift bags collected, sushi squared away and move in when their attention switches from getting organised to looking for someone to talk to.
3) Play the numbers
Picking off the singles takes time, requires more effort and you could get stuck with a clinger. Conversely approaching the big group with the popular people and getting any decent networking done will be difficult unless you can cull a few off the main group. Groups of 2 can be closed, rather approach smaller groups of 3 or 4, here you will get better results and be able to build strong relationships.
4) Watch the language
Understand that while you are out to get some decent contacts the person you are currently with is doing the same. Have your elevator pitch ready so you can deliver a concise professional picture of your business and get them interested so you can give more detail. No over selling, complaining (about anything), going off topic uninvited or giving out too much personal information. Time is short so don’t over-deliver and watch out for the handover signals when it is time for you to move on or when they want to speak to someone else.
5) Complete the contact cycle
Having lots of cards collecting in a drawer is not the same as having contacts. The amount of time that passes after contact is made erodes the strength of that contact. Don’t let all the hard work come to nothing – be the first to get in touch. This is where your listening skills come in handy and the contact can be easily refreshed.
Remember that this is a process and developing the art of networking takes time and you need to be willing to grow and learn to get better.