You have probably heard that if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well. Networking is no different; and it’s definitely worth doing. So, let’s do it well!
Before anything else, preparation is the key to success
There’s no shortage of networking opportunities out there, but you need to think quality over quantity; time is at a premium these days. Start by figuring out what you want to accomplish and who you’re interested in meeting or connecting with; this will help you figure out where you need to be.
Now that you know where you’re going, gather info about the event you’re attending. Find out some key details like if there’s a theme or required attire. What about the location, how long will it take you to get there or to find parking? These seem insignificant, but being inappropriately dressed or stuck in traffic and late can get you flustered and make you less effective at networking.
Be prepared to open your mouth. It’s imperative that you have an elevator speech; one that you can deliver convincingly and effortlessly. Don’t let your game end there though, be prepared to talk to people. Really talk, not sell.
Try asking questions. People love talking about themselves and this is a great way to get to know a potential client or partner. Keep the questions light though, tough or probing questions can cause someone to raise their guard or shut down.
Remember, networking is about making connections and building relationships.
Ready, set, go network
Really, this is a very important step. It’s amazingly easy to say you’re going to go to an event, but at the last minute have so much work to do that you just can’t get away, or that phone call you just have to take, or that other very unconvincing excuse.
Yes, your work is important and there certainly are those times that you have to stay at the office instead of being out networking, but don’t let your hesitation or fear stop you. Getting to an event can be half the battle. Planning to meet a colleague at the event is a great way to ensure you’ll go… even if you don’t really want to.
Follow through (not just up)
Follow up is great – you know, calling or emailing the new contact you made at the event you attended – but following through is better. First, make sure you make notes right after the event; don’t risk forgetting those details that are so important.
Then, don’t just clamor for their business, but provide value. Maybe you could send them a helpful article based on the conversation you had, or the contact for someone that can fulfil a need they mentioned to you.
A few other things you could do to strengthen the connection would be to connect on LinkedIn, send a thank-you note (yes, a hand-written note!), or invite them to another event they might be interested in.
You can network anywhere and everywhere; practice makes perfect. Networking isn’t easy for everyone, but it is important. So, smile, have plenty of business cards, and try to have fun.
Kevin Coulson is director of marketing and business development at Meridian Behavioral Healthcare, Inc., and serves as vice president, membership services of the Gainesville Chapter of the Florida Public Relations Association.