I suppose that one of the most difficult things for us social butterfly accounting types is going to networking events and working the room like a politician.
As with any other activity, a little preparation can go a long way in your ability to maximize the value of any potential networking event that you might attend.
Let’s me suggest you start by registering for the event as early as possible. Most networking events publish a list of attendees and if you don’t register in advance, you won’t be on the list with all of your contact information. As an additional benefit of registering early, you get a printed badge that is easy to read instead of a cheesy hand written one. Registering for an event well in advance also speaks well of your ability to plan your schedule.
If you are going to be going to a meeting you need to have business cards. Business cards, like an outgoing signature on EVERY email, are the currency of business professionals. Someone I interviewed with in 1991 handed me his business card and asked me for one of mine. I lamely said, “I’m not working. I don’t have a business card.” He said, “You have a name, address and phone number don’t you?” Well, you get the idea. I went out the next day and got business cards.
Now let’s dress for the meeting. If you want to give the impression that you are “too cool to actually be networking,” don’t wear your “Sunday go to meeting” best. (Sorry, this is an old Indiana expression.) My approach is to “dress to the nines.” (I’m not sure where this comes from, but I think it conveys the correct tone.) I wear my best suits and best ties to ALL networking events. I also shine my shoes. I am a subscriber to the old saw that you never get a second chance to make a good first impression. I would also suggest to you that to be effective at networking you have to look successful. No one will approach someone who appears to be down on their luck.
Dressed in your finest threads and armed with your professionally printed business cards, my next piece of advice is to get to the meeting early. I personally couldn’t care less who the speaker is or what he/she is planning to talk about. (As my friends would tell you, I usually fall asleep during this part of the meeting.) Get there early and plan to leave late. Those dedicated to networking will be doing the same, and they are the ones you want to meet anyway. By the way, be sure to have a fine writing instrument with you. Cheap pens are fine for the office perhaps, but not for formal business events. Everything about you tells a story. Make sure it is the one you want to communicate. If there is food being served, getting there early not only gives you your pick of “what’s for breakfast,” it also gives you the chance to finish your breakfast before everyone else arrives. I don’t know about you, but I have always found it difficult to shake hands while holding a cup of coffee.
Now it is time for the rubber to meet the road. Networking, full speed ahead. Pick a likely “victim” and introduce yourself. This is where your 90 second announcement, boiled down to 15 seconds can come in real handy. Ask them what they do. (Someone has to go first, and it is more gracious to let the other person do so.) They will then ask you what you do. Now comes the business card exchange. I have a business card holder I keep in my jacket pocket. I don’t find pulling them out of a wallet works as well. Above all, don’t be surprised when someone asks for your card. (I can’t believe how often this is the reaction when I ask. Hello! You’re at a networking event. DUH!) Have your business cards handy.
I know you want to know why you need a pen. Well, the answer is simple. If you have met someone and they have offered to give you a networking contact in some category, write this information on YOUR card before you hand it to them. And, of course, add THANKS! On their card, write yourself a note. It is hands down one of the best personal selling techniques I have ever heard, and you are now in sales.
The most frequently asked question I hear asked is how to maximize the number of people you meet. May I make a suggestion? Try to meet as many people as possible IN DEPTH. Running around the room grabbing business cards isn’t going to make you appear to be a serious person who is interested in other people. While I may not be a big fan of ANY politician, there is a lot to learn from how they practice their trade. They make it a point to make everyone they meet feel important. Even in a crowded room, they take the time to make a personal connection to anyone they meet. It is more important than doing a volume.
Well, there you have it. These are the basics.
Anyone who would like to contribute their own ideas on this topic should send a note to Leads@TheFENG.org and ask Leslie to put your comments in our “Notes from Members” section. Please don’t send them to me as it will only slow down their publication.