I attended a recent networking breakfast with nearly 50 attendees from all manner of businesses. It was enlightening and interesting to listen and see what attendees didn’t do as much as what they actually did during the event. When those present were asked to stand up to ‘present’ their business, it gradually struck me, as they did this in turn, that so many networking event attendees get their approach badly wrong. Yet, to correct their errors is simple. To that end, below are my 10 essential networking skills to ensure that you gain more from business networking.
1. Don’t pitch or Preach, Ask, Listen and Engage
Too often, business people approach others at networking events with one thought in mind; to tell them about the services they offer with a view to selling directly to them or through them to someone they know. They start off by immediately pitching their wares. This over-salesy strategy is fundamentally flawed. People still buy people and they won’t buy from you or recommend you unless they like and trust you. So, remember these four principles:
- First show interest in them by asking good questions about them and their business
- Second, listen and comment on their answers.
- Third, build the conversation and thus the relationship.
- Finally, whet their appetite with what you offer.
2. Sell Yourself as much as your Business
There are innumerable solicitors, accountants, IT companies, and all manner of consultants at every networking event. Sadly, when they stand to deliver their 60-second speeches, they all sound the same and blur into one mass of sameness. How can you, therefore, differentiate your business? Part of the answer is to make yourself part of the difference. Make what you say memorable. Ensure that your message is clear. Make sure you focus on specific target markets in your speech. Focus on stories and solutions that you’ve delivered rather than ‘telling’ everyone what you do. You will sound more interesting and compelling and stand out from the crowd.
3. You can’t sell Anything to Anyone
All too often I hear people end their pitch with something like ‘So, if you know anyone that needs our services, please give me a call’. That’s normally preceded by a boring spiel about what the company offers and does. Be specific. Select a target sector and tell people you meet what you did for that client and why they needed you to do it. Keep what you say focused on the challenges you overcome for your customers. After all, you need to sell something to someone not anything to anyone.
4. Be visible and be Heard
At this morning’s breakfast event, tables were lined up in two long rows. Many of the attendees didn’t bother to stand up so they were invisible to those sitting on either side of them and to the other side of the room. Only one person actually got up and stood at the front of the room so that everyone could see him. Others spoke into their chest so quietly that it was impossible to hear even in a quiet room. To make an impression, you need to be seen and heard. That also includes making sure that you don’t spend too long networking one to one and you at least attempt to meet a decent number of attendees rather than monopolizing one or two people.
5. It Ain’t What you Say, it’s the Way that you Say it
Research from Professor Albert Mehrabian in the 1960s helped us to understand that only 7% of the impact of human communication is related to Words whereas 38% comes from Tone and 55% Body Language. With this in mind, think about your pace and tone when you speak (especially when addressing the whole audience) and make sure that you aren’t monotone, dull, uninspiring, and use boring language. Use compelling language and try to be more animated but not like a clown! Try to make eye contact by scanning the room as you speak. Smile and engage with all those listening rather than just the one person opposite.
6. Check out the Attendees in Advance
If the delegate list is available beforehand, plan who you’d like to speak to. It makes the best use of your time. If the list is only available on the door, spend a little time when you arrive to work out who might be interesting. Ask the organizer to introduce you if that’s possible. You have limited time so make the most of the tools available.
7. Avoid too much and too little?
When standing up to speak, normally around one minute is allocated for each attendee. Once again, make the most of your time. Don’t drone on beyond one minute or people will switch off. Less is more. If you say the right things succinctly and there is an interest, that person may well come and find you after everyone has spoken. Focus on being interesting. Equally, don’t waste your time by being too brief. You need to clarify who you are, why you’re good at what you do, and who you work for so that attendees can focus upon their needs or a possible referral for you.
8. More Listening less Talking
Too many networking attendees love to talk to you. The skill is to encourage an even amount of talking and listening so that there is a fair exchange when chatting one to one. Equally, if you’re not listening to people as they are standing up to deliver their one-minute speech, how can you help them and also identify opportunities for you? Plan what you’re going to present before you arrive and not while others are presenting. Make sure you listen to them and try to help your fellow networkers to find what they want.
9. Follow up
Too often, potentially good networking contacts are allowed to disappear through lack of follow-up. Whether it’s meeting for a coffee to exchange views or contacts or a simple phone call, the real value is in the long-term relationships you build and the mutual benefit that can only be encouraged by follow-up post-event. Make a point of getting in touch with people where there might be a mutual benefit not just those to whom you wish to sell. This is part of growing your network. Add them on LinkedIn. Make a point of trying to get to know their business and referring them to people that might have a need for their services. People buy people and they will hopefully look to reciprocate. None of this will happen without proper follow-up.
10. Keep at it
Business networking isn’t a one-off. The word ‘work’ forms part of the term networking. Whilst we all must carefully plan out of time, the key is to select the right networking opportunities and attend frequently to build visibility and credibility. Those that dip in and out are often perceived as ‘hunters’ that are only there to find sell. They’re only interested in themselves. Go with the view to help others and provide advice based on your experience. You will get a reputation as someone that others should meet and you will be the person that others will want to refer and introduce. But you can only do this if you persevere and go along to events that provide the opportunity for you to network with like-minded people in environments where opportunities can be uncovered.
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