By Stacey L. Romberg
Jane Doe, Attorney at Law, attends her first networking event, a local Chamber of Commerce function. She knows no one. She wants to go home. Alternatively, she's tempted to hide intermittently in the women's restroom and the line to get cocktails until the speaker begins his presentation.
Eventually, after several trips through the cocktail line, Jane feels brave enough to venture out and meet some people. She walks up to another businesswoman, standing alone. "Hi, I'm Jane Doe. Here's my card."
Jane then bravely launches into her pre-rehearsed "elevator speech" describing her areas of practice, barely stopping for air to make sure she gets it right. The business woman smiles, says, "Thanks Jane, it was lovely to meet you," and then slips back into the cocktail line to avoid further contact.
Ever felt like that? To avoid Jane's dilemma, next time you attend a networking event, show up with a game plan:
1. Think about your clothes. Dress in a way that is appropriate for the event, shows respect and is consistent with your personal brand.
2. Think about your intent for the particular event, in advance. You need to know why you are showing up, beyond simply, "to get more clients." Is there a specific person you'd like to meet? If there's a presentation, would you like to learn something in particular? If there's a structured networking time, what will you say about your business?
3. Attend events that genuinely interest you. If you hate baseball, don't attend the Chamber's tour of Safeco Field. People can tell whether you're truly interested in something. Insincerity is not an effective networking strategy.
4. Remember that your goal is not to promote your business. It's to develop relationships with others and to help them. Although these efforts require more time and energy, you'll eventually create meaningful relationships, which will in turn add value to your business.
5. Introduce yourself clearly, making good eye contact. Smile, and offer up a firm handshake.
6. Wear your name tag on the right side, in a way that's highly visible. When someone shakes hands with you, as you hold out your right hand, their eyes are naturally drawn to the right side. They are more likely to see your name and remember it.
7. Turn your cell phone to vibrate. Or, better yet, turn it off. If you are working while at the event, why not leave and go to work?
8. Talk less. Listen more.
9. Ask "what" questions, which tend to bring out a conversational response. "What type of work do you focus on?" "What brings you here today?" "What's a good referral for you?"
10. Avoid handing your business card to someone unless: (a) they ask for it; or (b) you've made a substantial connection with them and you ask them if it's okay. ("May I give you my card?") Nothing turns people off more than someone racing around an event with the apparent goal of handing out as many cards as possible. People tend to discard those cards immediately after the event concludes.
11. Say, "Thank you," if someone hands you their business card. Make a point to look at the card, and perhaps comment on it if sincere ("Beautiful logo" or "Oh, your office is right downtown?"). Make sure you put the card somewhere specific so that you can find it later.
12. Follow up with people you've met at the event in a polite, respectful way. If you invite them to connect on LinkedIn, personalize your invitation rather than using the "canned" LinkedIn invitation. ("Hello George. I enjoyed meeting you at the Chamber event last Thursday. I'd like to connect with you on LinkedIn, and look forward to seeing you at future events.")
If you invite people for coffee or lunch, respect their schedules. Meet with them in a way that works best for them. Check to see if your new contact has a Twitter account. If so, follow them! It's a nice compliment and shows your interest.
As a general rule, if you've only met someone once, do not send them a Facebook friend request. Many professionals consider Facebook to be a personal forum, so your request may be perceived as being too aggressive. Also, if you have a newsletter, only put your new contacts on your list if you receive their advance consent.
13. Enjoy yourself! And, if you find a group that you genuinely like, get involved. Join the board. Or find a job to do within the group. The more you connect on a meaningful level with that group, the greater your ability will be to form meaningful, long-lasting and mutually beneficial relationships.
Develop your game plan before every networking event you attend, have fun and watch your practice grow.
Stacey L. Romberg, Attorney at Law, practices in the areas of business law, estate planning and probate - www.staceyromberg.com.