Networking etiquette

Let me ask you a question:  What is your view of networking events?  If your answer is other than ‘great’, then read on.

I have recently seen three good examples of local networking groups in my area, I participate regularly in events that just come under the heading of networking opportunities and I think that it is well worth making the effort to participate.

Here are some simple tips to successful networking:

1. Prepare: Much of the thinking that I advocate to my clients plays straight into this suggestion… you have to know what your company stands for, what it does and who it does it for. It’s really strategy 101 and if you’ve always thought of this as a complex concept, think again: strategy is simple and I’m happy to explain it.

How does it fit into a networking meeting? You need to be able to explain your company to someone in two levels of detail, or rather within two time-frames: say 30 seconds and two minutes. These are actually very different presentations, but both need to be neat and efficient and the performance must be as polished as your company image.

The great thing about networking meetings vis-à-vis these explanations is that by the time you’ve explained it to a dozen different people and seen their reactions, you will have a good idea how to hone it to make it even better. And your confidence for delivery will have increased immeasurably to boot.

2. Dress to impress: The protocol at these meeting varies and it’s worthwhile finding out about dress codes in advance, but in general dress as you would for an important business meeting. This shows that you have taken the event seriously and people will reciprocate. Wearing a suit costs nothing and as a client of mine always maintains, it can add a nothing to the end of your invoice too.

3. Move the spotlight: You may see a room full of 50 – 100 businessmen as a salesman’s dream, or alternatively a (reluctant) salesman’s nightmare. It is better, in my view, to put both of these to one side by choosing to be interested in the other people there, rather than trying to sell your thing.  This refocusing takes a lot of the pressure away and means that you’ll feel more natural. This will appear to others as confidence and people are drawn to confident people. Besides, and I find it hard to emphasize this with sufficient gravitas, you need to know about your clients: what they sell, their hopes and challenges and how your product can help them. This involves listening and this is a good environment to practice it in.

4. Play the long game: To use the old analogy, people seldom start a meaningful relationship with a one-night stand.  The real benefit of a good networking group is to get to know the people over time, rather than try to sell them something on day one.  Viewed this way, the networking opportunity is not the 100 people in the room, but access over time to a hundred business networks; a far greater opportunity.

I think that if we could look down upon the economy with the clarity of a sage, we would all be shocked at how large a percentage of business is won through close networks of one kind or another, though the advertising industry would never agree with me, I’m sure.

Taking this as a long-term relationship, be prepared to hear people out and get into a deeper conversation about subjects other than your own: there’s nothing more transparent than looking over someone’s shoulder to see who you can talk to, or more often sell to, next.  This said, don’t monopolize people, or let them monopolize you.  If you’ve spent too long chatting, excuse yourself by agreeing to meet at a later stage, or by apologizing for stopping them from networking.

5. Follow up: Oh my! Why is this so hard to do? We meet people who are interested in hearing more about our thing or are able to help introduce us to others (whether it’s at networking events, talks, shows or exhibitions), but when we get back to the office we don’t call them. If this sounds familiar to you, don’t beat yourself up because you’re not alone! But you do need to do something about it. The trick is to develop a simple system: make notes or write on business cards and then schedule time in your diary to perform this important task.

6. Practical steps for implementation: Those of you uncomfortable approaching strangers in a room of people can practice some simple tricks.  Firstly, act confidently, as this helps to trick your own subconscious into being confident (see First thoughts). Second, walk straight up to anyone standing on their own, introduce yourself by your first name and ask what they do; chances are they’ll be relieved that someone is going to talk to them without them having to make the approach.  Third, be warm and accommodating to anyone else wishing to join your conversation… this will undoubtedly be reciprocated at some later stage.

7. Get stuck in: A client of mine refers to herself as a network tart, but getting out amongst the networks in your area to see which ones work for you is precisely what is needed here. Try to go to each one at least twice before you either give up or become a long term member, so that you manage both your expectations and your budget effectively.  Going for the sake of going is not the aim though: the real benefits are in the medium to longer term, but you must capitalise each of the opportunities that present themselves as time is still money.

As part of a calorie controlled strategic marketing plan, I can heartily recommend it and I think that you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much fun it is!

1 comment to Networking etiquette

  • Absoultely – an excellent and valid argument and guidelines. So many people go to these events and wonder why they didnt sell anything – the old adage “people buy people” still stands so strong – engage, LISTEN (for pete’s sake why do so many desperate, sweaty businessmen insist on telling me about them without taking a care as to whether I may even have a need for their services!) and understand. If you go away able to refer someone to THEM, you’ve had a good meeting. Once you break the “give to get” barrier, it all starts to come together. I love networking; I still have uncomfortable moments where I am not sure how to start a discussion, where everyone is already talking to someone else (what is the secret and etiquette there?) but the more you do it, the better you get known and the easier it becomes!

    Two tips:
    1> do some research (at your first event if necessary) and check that the kind of contacts you will meet will be of potential use to you – its easy to forget!

    2> your time at these events is valuable! if you are stuck talking to someone that is clearly of no interest to you, and you have exhausted the topic and want to move on, politely say to them “Oh, there’s so-and-so over there, I need to catch up with them about such-and-such, please excuse me” – it doesnt hurt feelings and you wont feel like you’ve had your time wasted either.