I have a secret. Not all PR people love networking. Not every PR pro is a natural at working a room. Some actually dislike, even dread, networking opportunities. And there’s a big difference between enjoying events, and actually being an effective networker. But love it or hate it, networking is an essential skill for any good communicator and any good executive.
Franco keeps a comprehensive calendar of “must-attend” events in and around Detroit, and event season kicks into high gear from April through June, so there’s no time like the present to polish those networking skills. Here are a few of my favorite tips…
Spend five minutes mentally preparing before you attend an event. This can be done in the car on your way. Ask yourself a few questions. Who do you hope to meet? What do you want to convey? Who can make an introduction for you? Can you make a connection in return? What are your goals or desired outcomes for the event? When someone asks you what you do, what’s your succinct and relatable response?
Arrive early, stay for lunch, don’t skip the afterglow
When an event begins at 7:30am with registration and breakfast, resist the urge to arrive late. Anti-networkers love to minimize their exposure by slipping in to an event just as it kicks off, spending the lunch hour checking email and skipping out before the afternoon reception. Those are the best networking opportunities! Those alone are worth the price of admission to most events. Force yourself to arrive early and maximize your time to meet and mingle.
Come out of your shell
Easy for me to say, right? But while I may be an extrovert once I know you, I start out as a wallflower. Some techniques I use to get conversations started with people I don’t know include smiling and asking easy questions. Walk up to a small group and ask “may I join you?” Don’t feel like you need to carry the conversation. Be a good listener. Relationships are built on listening, and if you’re an extrovert, you’re probably a very good listener.
Don’t let your eyes wander
The worst faux pas people make at events is to scan the room while in a conversation with someone. Nothing says “I’m only talking to you until I spot someone more important” than when your eyes are frantically darting around a room while engaged in conversation with someone. It’s rude. Please don’t do this.
Ditch the sales pitch
Networking is about building relationships. It’s not about selling to every person you encounter. I once had a colleague who would go into auto-pilot sales mode at events, almost as if plugging into an electrical outlet or flipping a switch. It was painful to watch, and you could see the non-verbal cues from people around. This behavior made them uncomfortable. They wanted out. Overall, these exchanges did not lead to relationships, or sales. Please don’t do this. Instead, keep the conversation light and informal. And if someone does ask you about your business, give a brief and easy description of what you do that conveys your passion and expertise but doesn’t end in a hard sell (see Preparation above!).
What do you do with all those business cards you collect? Mine used to accumulate in various notebooks, purses, computer bags and suit pockets. Until I found the CamCard app. This little wizard scans business cards and imports the contacts to my phone. No more excuses for not organizing my piles of business cards. I often make notes on business cards or in my notebook right after I meet someone so that I can follow up with something meaningful instead of a generic “nice to meet you” email (i.e. hope you had a good trip, hope your kitchen remodel is going well!). I always joke that if someone found my Outlook contacts they’d think I was a stalker because I regularly record the names of contacts’ spouse, children, high school attended, etc. I have a terrible memory, and these notes allow me to go back and refresh my memory if I’m going to call or see someone again (see “Prepare” again!). Follow up is important. Offer to help make a connection, or send them that article you referenced. Send a hand-written note on occasion. Connect on LinkedIn. Please don’t try connecting on someone’s personal Facebook after meeting once in a professional setting. It crosses a personal line. That, like the relationship, will come in due time.
And for some levity, have a laugh at these tips from those hilarious fools at The Onion.
What are your favorite networking tips? What are some of your favorite networking events? We love the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference, the Best of HOUR Detroit and the DBusiness Breakfast Series.
Tina Kozak is president of Franco. She can be reached at [email protected] or connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter @tinakozak. Connect with Franco on Facebook and Twitter @FrancoPRGroup.