Frequently I walk into “networking” events and see the following: people registering, walking into the meeting room, finding their friends or co-workers, sitting down, and starting to eat. They chat with the people they know and then listen to the speaker. When the speaker finishes, the raffle prizes are given, and people leave.
Though they are advertised as networking events, they are not. “Meet and eats” are extremely common. Professional and service organizations have them frequently.
The purpose of the event is to prompt members to get to know each other, conduct the business of the group, and hear an informational speaker. The “get to know each other” part is the area that needs work. Some people may attend these “meet and eats” for years and never meet any one new. They are not building relationships that could lead to referrals and direct business.
Here are four simple steps to turn a networking event from social hour with friends into a successful evening of drumming up new sales and business partners:
1. If you’ve been there before, make it a point to meet all of the people in the room that you don’t know
Don’t just talk with your friends and coworkers. Say “hi” and keep moving. Try to meet at least 3 people you have never met before. If you are shy or are uncomfortable doing this ask the membership person or one of the board members to introduce you to people.
2. When you approach someone, make conversation by asking questions about them and their business
Don’t pitch your business. Don’t even mention your business unless you are asked. Ask good questions and listen. Find something you have in common. If you are shy or not sure how to start a conversation prepare a list of general questions to get you started.
3. Have plenty of business cards with you
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been at networking events and asked someone for their card and can’t believe my ears when they say, “I didn’t bring any,” or “I am out”. Always have plenty of cards handy. Keep extras in your car, briefcase, purse, pockets and anywhere else you can think of. Have a pen handy to write notes on the cards you collect.
4. Help others with referrals
When you are ready to end your conversation you can say something like, “It’s been great getting to know you a bit, tell me what type of referrals are you looking for?” Once they have told you, say something like, “I’ll keep that in mind.” Get their business card and give them yours if they ask. While giving them your card, if they haven’t asked you it is okay to say something brief about your business and the type of referrals you are looking for, say “I help companies increase sales and I am always interested in CEOs who would like to discuss that.” Keep it brief.
If you felt a connection with the person, suggest a meeting in the next week over coffee or lunch and be sure to follow up once you get back to your office.
Remember when you are networking you are not selling. You are looking for people you can do business with, collaborate with and develop into a referral source.