By: Mary Sprow | Apr 2, 2019
“Hi, my name is Mary and I sell widgets. Here’s my card – please give me a call when you need some widgets (insert firm handshake here).”
Now what? Wait for that phone to ring because surely, you nailed that networking event – right? Wrong.
While balancing your glass of wine and appetizers and calculating how to land a new piece of business, it might be overwhelming to strike up a conversation with a room of your peers. With all that pressure around meeting new customers or clients, it’s no wonder some people get nervous about networking.
Hold on – there’s no need to panic. Gone are the days of schmoozing and offering up business cards, but with a change of mind set, you’ll soon be on your way to networking like a pro. Here’s how to get started:
1. Practice your introduction
Without a confident introduction, you’ll be more likely to stumble through your introduction and end up stating your name and job title while handing over that business card. Talk about why you do what you do instead of your job title. For example, “I help organizations build cohesive teams through fun activity.” With this method, you’ll allow people connect with you, ask a question or make a comment. Let the conversation begin.
2. Ask a better question
Rather than ask “What do you do?” or “Where do you work?” ask a better question like “How long have you been a member of this organization?” Engaging conversation will make them think. It might make them laugh. It will help them remember you because we tend to remember interesting people. Some more questions might be:
• How did you become a chiropractor, an accountant (or whatever)?
• Is there a story behind why you got into the field you’re in?
• Where did you get your shoes? I have a pair just like them!
3. It’s perfectly fine to merge your professional life and your personal life
A truly authentic person will talk about whatever they’re passionate about. It might be the amazing shrimp appetizers, their current work project, the winning sports team or maybe a funny story about their kids. When a person is honest and helpful across the board, they will easily make meaningful connections with other people.
4. Pull the conversion, never push
Listen and be curious. Find out about the person you’re talking to and don’t focus on yourself. Make eye contact, stay interested, absorb what’s being said and ask genuine questions as they come to you. Make a real effort to become part of the conversation, but don’t push it … instead gently pull the conversation by asking people about themselves.
5. Bring business cards
Almost everyone can be found online these days, but there is still a need for old school business cards. It’s not the lead in to the conversation, but it is part of the follow up. There is nothing worse than attending a networking event and being unprepared.
6. Remember how to use business cards properly
• Use both sides of the card. Jot down something memorable about the person you just met. When you look at that card a week later, you’ll remember the meeting and allow you the opportunity for meaningful follow up.
• Don’t be cheap and use tear-apart cards. Use the very best card stock you can afford, and avoid the shiny, glossy look because those cards are difficult for the recipient to write on.
• Never card-bomb, or hand over a card upon meeting someone face-to-face and before having a conversation and making a connection.
• Never, ever walk around a parking lot wedging your business card in car windows and windshield wipers.
7. Maintain professionalism
Especially at the more informal networking events, there is a good chance they will be serving alcohol. Even though a little can help the confidence, appearing intoxicated is the worst thing you could possibly do.
8. Stay in touch
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the networking moment, but it’s even easier to get side tracked and forget with whom you spoke. Without the follow up, the time you invested in meeting these people will not be well spent. In order to build a long lasting relationship, send the follow-up message as soon as possible.
• At the very least, send an email thanking your new contact for their time
• Send a LinkedIn request with a personalized message like, “I’m looking forward to seeing you at the next mixer.”
• To really make an impression, write a hand-written letter with a tidbit of from the conversation.
As a professional networker, remember that who you are and what you do is just the tip of the iceberg. Your ability to connect with people and guide them to their needed resources will make you a networking pro.
About the author: Mary Sprow has been an event specialist in the Chicagoland area for the past 20 years. She currently leads the Midwest sales effort for Topgolf based in Naperville. Prior to Naperville, she was the Director of Sales at Entourage at American Lane Restaurant and Creative Concepts, the founders of Boogie Nights, Trio and The Bamboo Room, also in the Midwest. Ms. Sprow brings both networking, sales and sales coaching to this column.