I brought my teenage daughter to a networking event. She thought it felt like a middle-school dance. #awkward
Not everyone feels this way of course, but walking into a room full of people you don’t know can definitely intimidate some of us. As a certified introvert, I have developed a process for successful networking. That process is why I’m still in business!
If you feel intimidated by networking, take in a deep breath. Relax. What I’m about to share with you is all about making friends, not contacts.
Networking is NOT for signing on clients; it’s for meeting people. Bringing on clients usually happens after you have been out there meeting people for a while.
Apart from the February Southern C Summit, of course! While you may have a good idea about which events are best for you, it’s good to try different ones. Each organization has a different vibe. Find events that work best with your schedule and that sound interesting.
I prefer events in the morning. We women business owners have a LOT on our plates on top of our business, so look for events that are relatively easy to get to. If you are not familiar with what’s going on in your town, ask a savvy friend where she networks. You might find out about happenings that hold interesting potential for you.
Attending events with a friend makes it easier. At the same time, you may be less willing to talk to strangers if you have your buddy to talk to.
If you’re showing up at the selected event with a knot in your stomach, promise yourself you can leave after talking to 4 new people or after being there an hour (or 45 minutes.) Even though I am an advanced “networker” I still get sick to my stomach when showing up at a large event where I’m not on familiar territory.
Here is the process I use for meeting interesting people who happen to want to help me grow my business.
Why are you going to this event? Is it to entertain yourself, meet people, be seen, practice showing up? Once you know why you’re going, everything flows more easily because you are clear on why you are there in the first place.
These are the easiest folks to talk to. Even if someone is looking at their phone, you can approach them and introduce yourself. Ask, “Am I interrupting something?”
If it seems that EVERYONE is engaged in the most fascinating conversation ever held, approach a small group and stand there waiting to introduce yourself. Simply say, “You all look like you’re having so much fun I wanted to join you.” Of course, they are all looking to meet new people so it’s a total win-win.
The first question you ask is, “How are you?” Or some variation. The person asking the questions is the person controlling the conversation.
Really this is not when you want to talk too much about your business; you want to find common ground with the people at the event. Ask what brought them there. Here are 50 conversation starters. Choose 3-5 stand-by questions and you can talk to anyone!
News flash! Some people talk too much. If you get hooked up with someone who speaks in one single run-on sentence, interrupt them. They seriously don’t mind and usually know they have this habit. Mention the obvious, “I don’t want to monopolize your time.” Or “I know have other people you want to talk to.”
Smile and make sure you have their contact info. If you want to get to know this person better, ask if they’d like to get together for coffee or a glass of wine some time.
Follow-up with everyone you talk to. Even the astrologist. Track them down on LinkedIn. Send them pleasant, non-transactional messages. Invite them to have a coffee or meet for happy hour. Then you really get to know the person and as if by magic, you have a new friend!
One December I went to a technology-related happy hour. I was a trifle flustered because it was on a Wednesday and I thought it was going to be on Thursday and I was not as dressed up as I like to be. But I went anyway.
I immediately saw a couple of people I know who were talking to this guy I didn’t know. I barged into their conversation, and chatted with “the new guy” a few minutes. For sure no more than 5 minutes before we got distracted.
I caught his first name and that he had lived in China for a number of years. One week later, I was working on a panel proposal and the light bulb exploded! Global culture! I stalked Brent without a last name, found him on LinkedIn and he became part of the panel on global business I moderated at a major tech conference a few months later. And that panel led to a juicy training contract with a large tech company.
You just never know.