Who you know has become as important as what you know, and more business professionals are attending more networking events than ever before.
So what’s it take to get a maximum return for your investment of networking time and money? For starters, it takes the ability to present yourself with pizzazz, communicate with confidence and sell yourself — quickly.
Sarah Michel, a Colorado-based trainer who coaches companies on “perfecting connecting,” says individuals have only 17 seconds to make an initial impact.
“That’s how long people take to form a first impression and once it’s formed, good or bad, you can’t take it back,” she writes. “The first seven words you use, the first seven steps you take and the first seven inches from your neck up are what people will remember the most about meeting you.”
Your chances of making a hit at a networking function are substantially better if you made a plan ahead of time. Find out who’s expected to attend, and what issues they’re most interested in.
When you attend a group’s regular networking meeting for the first time, recruit an “introducer” to assist you. Often there’s one person — perhaps one of the group’s officers or the event organizer or the registration receptionist — who knows most everyone at the meeting. Ask for his or her help in introducing you to those who you would most like to meet.
Think big and aim high in your networking. Focus on meeting “center of influence” people, and strive to make the best possible impact on them. Show your interest in them by asking for their business cards, then focusing on their business and the kinds of leads they’re looking for.
Ask open-ended questions, the kind that begin with words like who, what, when, where and how. Those questions, which can’t be answered with a simple yes or no, help open up the lines of communication.
When you meet a prospect, plant your feet shoulder length apart, lean forward slightly, gesture naturally, smile and extend a firm, web-to-web handshake.
A sense of timing is a critical skill at networking events, since often so many people attend them and there’s so little time to meet them. When it comes to making contacts and getting leads, quality is more effective than quantity. But networking always has been and will be a numbers game.
Those professionals who make their “net” work understand brevity is best at “meet and greet” events. Theirs is a surprisingly simple strategy: Be bold, be brief and be gone.
Recontacting a prospect after meeting him or her is what business author Kelly Robertson considers “the most important part of networking.”
Robertson, who wrote the book “Stop, Ask & Listen — How to Welcome Your Customers and Increase Your Sales,” advises sending a handwritten card immediately after the event, and arranging for a coffee or lunch meeting within two weeks thereafter.
In this day and age of social media, email and cutting-edge communication tools, handwritten thank-you notes stand out and get noticed. They are, and always have been, one of the best ways for you to share your attitude of gratitude.
Dan Burrus, the author of “Technotrends” and an analyst who predicts future business and technology trends, sees the return of the hand-written thank-you note as the “next big thing” in business communication.
An effective networker devotes most of the initial conversation to his prospect’s business, while summarizing his own in seconds rather than minutes.
You can’t overestimate the importance of being a good listener in this process. Think of it this way: A prospect isn’t really interested in what you have to say until she’s had her say. And she’ll do things— like invest in your services — for her reasons, not yours.
You need not possess superior interpersonal skills to excel at networking. You need only be a good listener and a good personal promoter who is willing to reach out to and share leads with influential individuals.
About the Author
Fred Berns speaks to, coaches and writes promotional copy for interior design professionals worldwide. For information about his services and products, visit InteriorDesignBusiness.net or contact him at Fred@FredBerns.com or 303-589-3013.