We often spend a huge amount of time online, but the best relationships happen face to face. As a business owner, it’s good to leave the office and spend some time with like-minded people in our community. This is where business networking comes in. We are social beings but put us in a room full of strangers and some of us just want to run for the door. If you are new to business networking and find it stressful, these simple steps can help events like these feel a little less daunting.
1. Go prepared
If you know you have a networking meeting coming up in the future then make sure you have plenty of business cards, brochures and other materials printed well in advance. Take a bag that can accommodate notebooks, an iPad, and promotional materials. Another thing to consider is a backup kit that consists of headache medicine, mouthwash, band-aids, a brush, an umbrella, or anything else you may need to get you through the event if any issues arise.
2. Dress comfortably
I cannot stress this enough: dress as comfortably but professionally as you can. For the men, go with comfortable shoes and the corporate casual look that won’t have you sweating all through the event. For the women, avoid high heels. There will be a lot of moving around and standing. There is reason stilettos are called 5-minute shoes! Go for corporate casual as well paired with comfortable shoes. If you are comfortable with your outfit then you will be comfortable mingling for a few hours.
3. Put your phone away
It’s so easy to hang onto your phone for dear life like a security blanket at these types of events. It won’t help you meet people and break out of your comfort zone. Too often we use our phones to appear busy if we are in public so that we don’t have to talk to anyone. Sadly, this gives others the impression that you are avoiding people altogether. Your phone has a place at these events: it belongs in your pocket or your bag to be taken out occasionally to exchange information or to check on the kids.
4. Be prepared to move around the room
Often networking meetings are set up in open spaces that force you to move around. Remember you are there with a purpose: to chat, to mingle, to get out of the office and to see what others are offering while talking about what you do for a living. This is hard to do if you sit in a chair in one spot for the duration of the meeting. If you appear uncomfortable, others will feel uncomfortable approaching you. If you appear that you are hiding then you could be sitting in silence the whole time.
5. Prepare to really listen
Experts in communication say we talk to respond but fail to really listen. We are not born good communicators, it takes a lot of time and practice. In a networking event, the best way to break the ice is to ask a lot of questions. When in doubt, remind yourself that in order to be interesting, be interested. You are attending a networking event to learn, to expand your community, to connect and to be of service. We live in a society that steers away from the hard sell. Making good positive connections is main goal here.
6. Watch your body language
Give it 15 to 20 minutes to get a handle on the room. From here, you can move from conversation to conversation as an observer and a listener until you find the right spot. Again lead with questions and go from there. Avoid crossing your arms and looking at the floor. It’s a good idea to shake hands and smile while keeping a comfortable distance from the other person. No one likes to feel crowded. The only touching that should be done is a handshake. Avoid hugs, elbow jabs or pats on the shoulder. Some of us really do have a space bubble that we feel comfortable in and too much touching or crowding can be a real turn off.
7. Always go for humour
If you think you are the only one who feels awkward at the events, think again. Humour is the best medicine and can really get the conversation going. If you find something in common, roll with it. Humour tears down walls and lets others know you are just like them. Humour can be used to break the ice and it can comfort those who are feeling anxious.
8. Don’t feel you have to connect with everyone there
We cannot like everyone we meet so do not feel bad if you did not hit it off with every person there. There’s always next time. Oftentimes, other people may not really enjoy networking or they could be having an off day. Time may not always be on your side at these events if they are an hour to two hours long. We put too much pressure to make an awesome first impression. Not to worry, there’s always time for big impressions the more you attend these events. Give it time.
9. Follow up
After you have connected with some people send them a follow-up email mentioning you had a great time and you are looking forward to the next event. There is no hard sell here: just a chance to connect with your community. It lets them know you are interested, you are a human being just like them and that you are thankful for being part of such a great business community.