Most of you reading this will no doubt have been or are considering travelling to a conference in the hopes of networking with other business owners.
To those who are relatively new to the game it can seem quite a daunting thing going into a room full of complete strangers and expecting to strike up conversation with them. Even some of the more experienced owners out there may be struggling to network at events.
Here’s 12 tips to help you make those crucial connections at any events you attend.
Gather your Confidence
You need to be confident in approaching strangers and starting a conversation and chances are you’re not the only one that might be struggling with nerves. Bear in mind the purpose of a networking event, everyone is in the same boat and has to go through the same process of meeting and greeting.
Gather your thoughts and remember why you have gone to the event to get into the right frame of mind. If you’ve spotted previous acquaintances then spend some time speaking to them, it’ll help settle your nerves. Don’t spend all of your time with them as you’ll lose opportunities to meet others.
Don’t be a wallflower either, it’s easy to conjure excuses as to why you’re wanting to stay in your comfort zone but don’t even consider them. If you spot someone on their own then go and talk to them, it’s incredibly unlikely that they’ve attended purely to be alone, they’ll be more receptive as a result.
Give and Take
Business owners who attend events are predominantly interested in how networking can help their business but it’s not just a game of take and take.
You have to be prepared to give as well as take, be willing to help other businesses as much as you need their help. It might not pay off in the short term but it can get a relationship started and lead to more business for both parties in future.
Try taking the stance of offering your help to others before seeking help yourself, this way you give the sense that you’re someone who is worth knowing.
It’s not about Selling
There are a lot of people who’ll admit to attending events in the hopes of directly increasing their own sales. Whilst some in attendance may be open to suggestion and willing to negotiate business the purpose is to meet other business owners and start building a relationship with them.
If you’re struggling to find much to talk about ask them about their business and what they do, people enjoy talking about themselves and their business. It’ll show that you have an interest in them and will build ties in the relationship plus you might also find out something you hadn’t previously known.
Sales might not come through the very individuals you’re talking to either, the people you meet could refer other businesses to you or vice-versa.
The most successful trips will allow you to add one or two key individuals to your circle(s) that can play a big part in developing your business further.
Don’t got to an event with the intent to dish out a business card to every individual you meet. They’re merely a tool to help people follow up on the contacts that are of interest to them.
One of two things happen to business cards, they’ll either be binned or ‘filed’ if the recipient can’t recall having a conversation of note. On the rare occasion someone may call back… but only to sell their products to you.
If you haven’t got any cards to hand then don’t panic, as you’re speaking to people if you’re having a good conversation and you’re interested in their business or vice-versa then ask for their card. With their card in hand it gives you the power to resume the conversation at a later date, but be sure to note down what was said, where you met and how you intended to continue the conversation.
Stay focussed during your conversations, listen to what is being said and find ways that you can help the people that you’re speaking to. It’s a trick known as listening ‘for’ people and will certainly reflect positively on your character as you’re showing an interest in helping others as much as yourself.
Always be conscious of how each person will fit into your network whilst speaking to them, don’t be selfish and focus only on our gains.
Ask the Right Questions
Approach each conversation openly, ask questions which are relevant to the current topic of the conversation. Whilst some advise preparing a list of set questions to ask everybody it comes across as being uninterested in what’s being said.
Asking questions in line with the conversation shows your interest and that you’re actually paying attention to the speaker(s).
Captivate your audience
Considering that the majority of people primarily have an interest in themselves you have to make the most of any chance you get to speak and talk about your business. As long as you have a clear idea as to how you’re going to deliver your message as effectively and captivatingly as possible.
People make decisions much quicker than you’d expect,the moment you’ve mentioned what you do they’ll have considered within mere seconds the general purpose of your business and whether or not you’ll benefit their own agenda. If you fit into their plans they’ll keep listening, if not they’ll switch off and/or walk away.
The Americans have the best analogy for this particular situation, it’s called ‘elevator speech’. You’re in an elevator and a senior member of the business in in there with you and you’ve got only a handful of floors to get them interested in you. What do you do?
Leave room in your speech for questions to be asked, like any business situation you never reveal your whole hand at the beginning.
A quick way to get information across is to talk about how your clients have benefited from using your service.
If you want something, ask for it
As the saying goes “if you don’t ask, you don’t get”. Have a plan as to what you want to get out of an event and go about fulfilling that plan.
Find the people who have what you want and make sure you introduce yourself to each of them. Throw out any pre-conceived notions of individuals as some people may surprise you as to their level of influence.
Consider yourself a host
Don’t get tunnel vision, make sure you’re aware of others around you.
It’s rude to interrupt an ongoing conversation in any situation so if you see two people chatting amongst themselves try and seek out a larger group of people that you can work your way into.
Don’t forget the individuals either, give them someone to talk to as well. If there are other individuals around you at the time see if you can bring them into your conversation at a convenient point. It gives the air that you are interested in other people and that you’re willing to help others.
It might seem like a rather obvious point but if you’re not there you’re not going to gain anything. The more events you attend the more you’ll be recognised and the more your reputation will grow with it.
If an opportunity arises to attend an event which is relevant to your business development plan then go, after all “if you don’t buy a ticket you’ll never win the lottery”.
After an event you’ll probably have a umber of business cards and contact information to sort through. Find those that were of most relevance and you built the strongest rappor with and get in touch. It can take up to twelve ‘touches’ in all before you get any business from a contact.
If you don’t follow up on the contacts made then you’ll slip from their memory and any potential business that was there will be lost.
Don’t make promises you can’t keep either, if you’ve arranged a meeting at another time with a contact then follow through otherwise you’ll damage your reputation.
If a contact doesn’t bring business to your door immediately then don’t discredit them, everyone has their own schedules and plans. You might be part of their longer term plans rather than the immediate development of their business.
Find out how their business is progressing over time to get keep yourself in the forefront of their minds and help give yourself an understanding as to when you may be able to do business.
Follow these steps and you’ll be sure to get the most out any events you attend.