How to Work a Room

You know that networking is critical to growing your business.  If you are like most people, however, your networking efforts are largely ineffective.  Three key concepts can help you make networking events more productive:

1.    Get out of your comfort zone – Let’s be honest:  networking does not come easy for most people.  To one degree or another, we all are uncomfortable in unfamiliar environments.  It often feels like you are the only one who does not know everyone else in the room.

Your networking will fail if you wait for people to approach you.  Remember the old saying, “If you want a friend, be a friend.”  You are not the only person who feels uncomfortable.  Find someone who is standing alone, walk across the room, and introduce yourself.  Ask about her company, her clients, and her services.  Almost invariably, she will ask you about your company, your clients, and your services.  Both of you will be glad that you stepped out of your comfort zone, and you will have made a new friend.

Until you are willing to get out of your comfort zone, your networking efforts will be ineffective.

2.    Make meaningful contacts –  This principle became apparent to me a number of years ago at a monthly networking breakfast sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce where I had the opportunity to observe two men who regularly attended the event.

The first man was a loud, obnoxious back slapper.  As he walked through the room, he pawned off his business card on as many people as possible.  If you were unfortunate enough to sit at his table, he would launch into his sales pitch, try to schedule an appointment with you, and shake you down for leads.  Most people were intimidated by him; few people could get a word in edgewise.  It was amusing to watch people position themselves so they did not have to sit at his table twice.  Don’t be that guy.

The second man was professional and respectful.  As part of the networking event, everyone at the table would introduce themselves and talk briefly their business.  When it was his turn to talk, he offered helpful leads to everyone else.  Rather than focusing on his needs, he looked for ways that he could help others.  He was a wildly successful salesman because he looked for ways to help rather than to push his services.

Focus your networking efforts.  Instead of trying to squeeze business out of everyone in the room, get to know one or two people at each networking event.  Learn about them, their business, and their reason for attending the meeting.  Rather than trying to force feed them on why they should do business with you, focus on them and their needs.  Look for ways to connect them with other people in your network.  If you add one or two meaningful contacts each time you attend, you quickly will develop a useful network.

3.    Follow up – It’s easy to gather business cards at a networking event.  The challenge is to follow up with your new contacts in a meaningful way.

When you return to the office, enter the contact information from your new friend into your database.  Note when and where you met, and list something you learned about the person.  Look up his company website, and learn something more about him or his business.  Then send him a short handwritten note as a follow up.

The next time you see your contact, ask follow up questions from your prior meeting.  Look for ways to be helpful to your contact.  Do you know someone who could use his services?   Do you have information or contacts that could help his business grow?

Schedule a time when you can get together for breakfast or lunch to become better acquainted and to learn more about each other’s business.  Arrange for a mixer between your respective colleagues.  Recommend and introduce your contact to someone who could benefit from her services.  By regularly and systematically following up with your contacts, you can build a strong network.

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