Networking events are a fantastic way to meet new business prospects, potential partners, and leverage relationships within your existing network for referrals. These events can certainly seem intimidating if you don't have an action plan to keep you focused and on task. To make the most of networking opportunities, business women can treat each event as they would treat a date. Following the same rules that you would typically follow on a date provides some guidance for how to prepare for the event, what to do while there, and actions to take post-event to take advantage of any prospects.
Primping for your Date
The first step toward an engaging experience at a networking event is preparation. When you go on a date, there are certain rituals you do to get ready. These same rules apply to preparing for a networking event to be the best-prepared date you can be:
- Research the event host and the demographics of the attendees. If there's someone going to the event you want to be introduced to, ask a mutual contact for an introduction ahead of time. LinkedIn is a great resource to discover mutual contacts.
- Have a stack of business cards ready to go.
- Prepare your elevator pitch and main talking points, then practice a few times!
Be a Good Date
A good date qualifies as someone who makes you feel comfortable. This person listens to you and asks questions based on what you are saying. Networking works the same way. To be a networking queen and get the most from your experience, you should:
- Ask other attendees about their purpose for attending.
- Make conversation with people you have the most business interest in. While you should be friendly to everybody, don’t waste more than two minutes chatting with someone who you know you have no business interest in.
- Listen to who they are and what needs they have that your business may be able to fulfill.
- Ask strategic questions to direct the conversation -- play to their needs, offer helpful hints, and suggest your business as a solution.
In any dating situation, you always need a good exit strategy. Even if you're having a great conversation and are interested in working with someone, you don’t want to spend too much time with one person. The more people you meet, the better chance you have at acquiring business. Think of it as speed dating! You want to handle these situations with great care because you never want to leave a bad taste in someone's mouth about you or your company.
Excuses to Exit:
- To use the restroom: "Excuse me, I have to use the restroom. It was a pleasure meeting you!"
- For a phone call: "Pardon me, I have a phone call to make. Enjoy the rest of the event!"
- To meet a colleague: "Please excuse me, I have to meet a colleague. It was a pleasure speaking to you."
If the conversation went well and you've procured their contact information, you may also need to excuse yourself for the above mentioned, but remember to:
- Tell them next steps ("I'll be in touch tomorrow to continue our discussion!").
- Exchange business cards.
The Morning After
Who wants to be the first one to get in contact after a date? YOU DO! Never wait for them to contact you first. In the dating world this may seem desperate, but in business we call this eager, smart and strategic. The day after the event, you should:
- Add the person on LinkedIn. Include a friendly message in the invitation that recaps the conversation and next steps.
- If the person doesn’t use LinkedIn, you can also send them an email with the same type of message. Also, make sure to download Rapporative, which is a social tool allowing you to view all of a contacts footprint on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
Networking events may seem intimidating at first, but the above strategic tactics alongside your natural abilities will ensure that you make the most of the opportunity both personally and professionally. If you think about networking the same way that you would think about being a good date, you're sure to come out with a broader professional network and a rolodex of untapped business prospects.
Lauren Perkins is a brand evangelist and digital tastemaker who delivers integrated solutions from a unique entrepreneurial perspective. She is the CEO and founder of Perks Consulting, a digital and creative services marketing agency. She's a member of The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC promotes entrepreneurship as a solution to unemployment and underemployment and provides entrepreneurs with access to tools, mentorship, and resources that support each stage of their business’s development and growth.