What To Do At Business Networking Events.

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by Bill Borden
Founder of ArizonaCircle.Com

I've attended thousands of business networking events both in Phoenix and Connecticut. I've hosted many events or have volunteered to help. You can always tell who the newbies are. They're the ones, handing out business cards and making the purpose of their visit known to everyone in the group. Or they're the ones who don't talk to anyone. Then they complain that networking doesn't work because they attending one event and didn't get any business.

Of course some of the regulars don't understand how to network effectively either. Instead of taking an active role in meeting everyone, they hang out with the five or six people they know and don't socialize with anyone else. In the Phoenix area the common joke is 'Its not net eating, it's net WORKING!' Many of the regulars go to networking events simply to eat the free food and hang out with their favorite friends week after week.

So what should you do at networking meetings? This article is about how to make the use of your time at events.

The first thing to do is have a plan before you attend any networking event. Are you likely to meet the people you want to meet at this event? If not what other networking events can you attend? Once you've settled on the events you will attend, know what you will do and what you will not do. Know who you want to meet. Spend most of your time with people who are most likely to help you achieve your goals.

The first thing to do is arrive at least a half hour early. I've found that the best networking events don't involve formal 'meetings'. The best networking events are social functions where people mix and mingle for the entire event. However there may be good reasons why you need to attend meetings. If you do attend meetings, know that the magic happens before the meeting. That's why you want to get there before everyone else does.

After the meeting is an ok time to network but it's not the best because many people run out the door immediately after the meeting ends.

Since you have arrived early, you can greet everyone as they walk in the door. I greet everyone if possible with a firm hand shake, smile, and a welcome, even if it's my first meeting. I might make a brief comment or compliment to t each person if I see something worth mentioning that's fun and friendly. I state my name and ask for theirs.

By the way, it's a good idea to wear a name tag. You can have a professional tag made up. It's very inexpensive. Or at some events, name tags are given to every guest. Even then, It's preferable to have your own professional looking name tag. Your own name tag tells people you're serious and professional. A name tag also makes it easy for people to strike up a conversation with you and visa versa. With so many new people to meet, some will forget your name. Without a name tag people will be embarrassed that they forgot your name. With a name tag all they need to do is take a quick glance at your name tage to refresh their memory.

Meeting people quickly at the door as they walk in to get set up is a good tactic because it's much harder to walk up to a table of people who are chatting and introduce yourself. In fact networking events with seats at tables doesn't make it easy to network. People have a tendency to sit there for the entire event and not meet anyone. Networking events with standing room only and perhaps small high top bar tables or counters make it easier for people to move around, mingle, and meet new people.

At really good networking events, the host will engage the group with networking games that force people to get up, walk around, and get to know new people. But only a small number of networking events are like this. At most events you need to be the one to make the first move. Most people are shy. But they will respect you for approaching them. This is something they're probably afraid to do. They want to meet new people. Perhaps they don't even like the people they're sitting with, but they don't know how to make an exit gracefully and start conversations with other people in the room.

What if you're shy and don't like meeting new people? Well either don't go to networking events or change your personality. Pretend you're someone else. Just do it. So what if you're shy? Make it your goal to be outgoing. How hard is it to walk up to someone and say, "Hi how are you? I'm Bill. What's your name?" What are they going to do? Bite you? Of course not. They came there to network and meet new people. You just made it easier for them by speaking them first. Now they don't need to walk to you and make the first move.

One of the best ways to start conversations is to make positive observations or ask friendly open ended questions that shows you're concerned about them, not yourself. Before people will listen to you about what you want, they need to see that you're concerned about them. Let people talk. Ask questions. Get to know them. What do they do for a living? What is their company all about, ... or what ever. Never be the first one to talk about yourself. And never give out your business card unless someone asks for it.

Instead of giving out business cards, I prefer to collect them. After I speak with someone I discreetly move to a quiet area of the room and make notes on the back of their business card or in my notebook so I can remember that person. If you really hit it off with someone and they don't have a picture on their business card, you might ask if you could take their picture on your phone so you can remember them.

Why do I collect business cards? Because within 24 hours I want to call or at least email the people I met and follow up. Since hardly anyone does this, you'll stand out and people will remember you.

Next you need to start making a list of new friends or contacts. Keep track of what every single person tells you, This way when you speak with them again they'll be impressed that you remembered the conversation. They'll be impressed that you listened to what they had to say. This shows genuine interest. Chances are they don't remember much about you. That's ok.

The best way to impress someone is to be impressed by them. Avoid speaking much about yourself unless you're asked. And even then choose your words carefully. Be prepared in advance as to what you'll say if someone asks you what you do for a living or about your reason for networking. You want to keep you words short, clear, and to the point. People typically have a very short attention span and will not hear a word you say if you ramble, are nervous, or ar not prepaired. You might prepare something to say that will make people curious and want to know more. This way you can talk a little longer. Better yet, if they have an interest in what you do, why not make an appointment with them after the networking event or on another day, to fully explain what you do.

Spend most of your time, getting to know people rather than talking about yourself. As you get to know people, 'weed' them out. Separate people into groups. Decide which people you will spend more time with.

Regular networking events are the best because you see the same people all the time. However many people who network attend special events too. One meeting is not enough time to make new new friend. It takes several 'impressions' to be remembered and trusted.

New people often go to networking events with the intention of selling everyone at the event. They're missing the boat. The purpose of networking is not sell your product or service. The purpose of networking is to build lasting friendships. When people like you and see that you have a genuine interest in helping them, you're the first person they'll think when they know someone who needs what you offer. Also as your database of trusted friends grows, you'll have many people you can call for free advice and to bounce ideas off of.

As an independent business owner or someone looking for a good job, networking is a good way to expand your network of influential friends. Within a short period of time you'll know so many people that you'll be 'well connected' in your community. Important people will know you and you'll know them. If there's someone you'd like to meet and don't know them, chances are one of your networking friends knows them and can introduce you.

The important thing is not to give up. Networking takes time and most people see limited results in the beginning. Building new friendships that will last for years takes time too. Is it worth it? Well if you're only goal is to make a quick buck and disappear, no, networking is not for you.

It can take a few months of networking to get any new business or to find the perfect job you're looking for. Networking is not a quick fix. It's a long term plan to get to know people in your community. You'll be meeting movers and shakers. And you'll be meeting many people who come and go but don't stick it out by attending networking events on a regular basis. That's ok. You'll see these people when you're shopping or going about your business around town. If you've kept good notes on everyone you meet, you'll develop a list of hundreds and even thousands of people you can call at anytime.

Networking is a long term deal because people need to trust you before they'll recommend you. Their reputation is on the line if they refer you. If you do a good job and take care of referrals, they look good, but if you drop the ball or their friends complain, you'll make people look bad. That's the last thing someone wants. Imagine referring one of your best clients to someone who doesn't treat your them right or even worse might something negative about you or even recommend that they use someone else instead of you! It happens. You need to trust the people you recommend and visa versa.

Interestingly there needs to be a good balance between networking and taking care of business. In the beginning, you may need to spend lots of time networking. But after a few months or years as there are more demands on your time, there's less time for networking. That's ok. Keep in touch with people. Attend events but you won't have time to attend all of them like you did in the beginning. Oddly enough as you get known in your community, people will send you business even if they don't see you that often. Why? Because they know that you're busy. They know that you don't have as much time to network because you're a successful person. 'You've arrived' so to speak. There's no reason to attend several meetings every day like you did in the beginning. You already know everyone. Now it's just a matter of maintaining those relationships and benefiting from all the hard work you did meeting new people years ago.

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