As a managing director at AB&C, I often attend events on behalf of my firm, where I walk into a room and strike up a conversation with complete strangers, or give the opening remarks to a crowd of unfamiliar faces. Today, I get excited about these opportunities to promote our agency. But once upon a time, networking was an uncomfortable experience for me, characterized by nervous glances around the room, a sweaty brow and awkward silences.
For many people, networking is terrifying. The good news is that, with practice, anyone can become a successful networker. Here are the strategies that transformed my networking technique:
Develop a Game Plan
Before you step into a networking event, you should have a clear sense of what you want to get out of it. Is your goal to develop new business contacts? Forge connections to advance your company’s mission? Uncover opportunities for partnerships? Ask yourself these types of questions to determine how you should focus your energy at the event.
Do Your Homework
Don’t rely on the description of an event to provide you with the insights you need. If you’re attending a conference, read the speakers’ bios in advance so that you’ll be able to strike up meaningful conversations with the presenters should the opportunity present itself. Get a list of the attendees and identify those you’d like to meet. Check out the host organization’s website to get a sense of their priorities.
Know Your Audience
Your ultimate goal for networking is to establish rapport. How do you do it? Start by actively listening. Ask thoughtful questions to draw information out of the individuals you’re speaking with, and listen to their responses. Armed with this knowledge, you can make authentic connections from a foundation of shared interests and experiences.
Practice Your Lines
Avoid “winging it “at networking events so that you don’t end up standing next to someone in awkward silence. Come prepared with the following:
· A 30-second elevator speech that communicates your company’s business focus, what sets you apart from the competition and why the listener should care.
· A series of icebreakers to avoid awkward silences (e.g., “So, what brings you here?”; “That was a great presentation. What did you think of it?”).
Bring Your Best Self
When you’re networking, it’s essential that you’re always “on.” Stay present and give the impression of confidence through your body language. Try to look relaxed, warm and alert. And don’t forget to smile! If you appear open and engaged, you’re more likely to be approached by others. As a result, you’ll make the most of your time and financial investment.
It’s Better to Give Than to Receive
Great networkers know that it’s not about what you get; rather, it’s what you give. What can you share that is valuable—insights, advice, contacts, empathy or emotional support? Sharing your gifts with others creates meaningful connections. The return is immediate, with long-term benefits for you and your business.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Steve is a seasoned PR pro with more than three decades of experience in the industry. He has worked with Fortune 500 companies, health systems and nonprofits, as well as arts and cultural organizations. He is a specialist in crisis and issues management, and also regularly leads media training programs with clients to help them shine in news interviews.