To be successful in the business world, you must network.
But there’s nothing scarier than walking into a room full of strangers and introducing yourself. I can feel my hands get clammy and my stomach drop now. How about you?
As the Southeast’s TASTE OF WICT comes to your neck of the woods, I found a few valuable tips to put you at ease and increase your networking circle.
- RESIST THE URGE TO ARRIVE LATE OR LEAVE EARLY
Entrepreneur magazine says that while this may sound counter-productive, showing up early is a better strategy than arriving late. When you arrive early, you will notice it’s less hectic because people haven’t had a chance to group together. In other words, it’s easier to find a conversation partner.
And just because the event comes to a close, doesn’t mean you have to go home. If there’s an after-party, gather a few people and go together. Or if there’s nothing planned, take action and invite people to continue the conversation over drinks or dinner.
- LEAVE THE HARD SELL AT HOME
Networking is all about building relationships. So, be yourself. It’s not about shoving your business cards in people’s faces and doing a hard sales pitch. Keep your conversations, light, fun and casual. So, get talking, make the conversation interesting and leave people wanting more. After all, people are more apt to do future business or partner with you when they enjoy your company.
- SAY CHEESE.
I know, this sounds like something your mother would tell you- but remember to smile. It’s so simple, yet many of us often overlook it. And when you smile, you come across as warm and inviting; plus, it helps to put you at ease. So, walk into the room with those pearly whites shining and ready to conquer the world. Definitely, check that frown at the door.
- FOCUS ON QUALITY, NOT QUANTITY
Instead of trying to get your business card in as many hands as possible, focus on the quality of your connections. When you first meet them, figure out if there is a chance for a mutual benefit. If there’s not, you might want to move on. It helps to know your networking goals before you get to the event so you can target those who can help you. But networking is a two-way street. So, uncover their needs. Ask your contact about their goals and aspirations and figure out ways you can help them.
- FOLLOW UP. FOLLOW UP. GET A SECOND DATE.
Networking is just the start, so stay in touch. Remember to pass out your business cards and collect them at your networking event. Don’t be afraid to find out the best way to stay in connect after the event. Some people like email, some like phone, while others prefer social networks. Reach out within a couple of days to show you are interested. And don’t forget to reference something you discussed so your contact remembers you.
The key to successful networking is giving what you want to receive. If you want to increase your visibility, help people increase theirs. If you want people to stay in contact with you, stay in contact with them. Focus less on selling yourself, and more on how you can help others. Because the help you give will likely be reciprocated.
And if you would like to practice your networking skills at the Taste of WICT in Knoxville, look for me. I’ll be there. Who knows maybe we can help each other.
by Jeff Goelz
Walking into a room full of people can be intimidating to some people let alone starting a conversation. At times, we may have a friend attending a networking event or even see a few friends there as well to keep us in our comfort zone. That said, do you know yourself well enough to know how best to network in a room full of strangers? While I’ve known about WICT for many years and even a few members from my work in the industry, I found myself not knowing a single soul when I attended my first Taste of WICT in February 2014.
Fortunately, I’m no stranger to networking, but it wasn’t always that way. Anybody that knows me knows that I’m rather unafraid of new situations or meeting new people. However, before I attend an event I try to get a good sense of the organization, the membership and the event including what questions to ask to maximize my time investment. So, you could say that is Tip #1 to networking.
Tip #2 would be to act as if you’re the host of a party. This is easier than you think because you did your prep work in Tip #1. Typically, I look for someone at the networking event that’s not talking to anyone thinking they may also be new, needing someone to break the ice or could just be waiting for a friend. I’ll open a conversation by introducing myself and after they introduce themselves follow-up with some questions about their interest in attending the event, what they do for work or fun, comment about the weather or, if it’s Atlanta, the traffic. That usually opens up the conversation and possibly exchanging business cards or contact information.
Now, wonderful, you’ve made a new contact that may also be valuable to have in your network, professional or otherwise. How do you continue to build rapport? Your new contact just shared some insightful information with you. This is where Tip #3 comes into action. I go back to my office or home and write down my takeaways from the conversation and follow-up after the event with an email or note thanking my new contact for the pleasure of our conversation noting something about it or providing some additional follow-up information. And so begins the growth of your network, but how do you keep the momentum going?
Tip #4: to keep that rapport with your new contact, schedule a date on your calendar a month after you met or just before another networking event, and reach out to them with something that’s relevant or interesting for them. As you may see, a relationship starts to grow. And, just maybe, you’ll find that person incredibly helpful with the next step in your career or some other area where you need assistance because you took the time and interest to start a conversation with a stranger.
Membership in WICT has opened so many doors during my time as a member. One thing I keep in mind is that networking is the bridge to not only knowing yourself but growing yourself. You may find your next client, career opportunity or friend just by taking an interest in someone you didn’t know before networking. Happy networking!