By Jeff Bowman
In the past couple of years, I have touched on some of the strategic value of being an effective networker.
There are, however, some little tips that may assist you in separating yourself from the “guy I met hawking business cards” to “the that person I met who really seems keen on helping me grow my business”
Subtle differences in the way you approach people can make all the difference in the world when it comes to gaining a little face time. Simple things like not walking around with your hands in your pockets, it always reminds me of a Charlie Chaplin character. Carrying around a daytimer or business portfolio has always made me a little skeptical of a networker’s intentions, and I find myself avoiding the individual because somewhere deep in the back of my mind I imagine him immediately trying to sell me encyclopedias. Hanging around the food area is usually a sign of someone who is unsure of how to approach others, so they wait until they come to them. If you really need a drink at the event, get it, consume it and move back into networking. A person who has to shift their drink to another hand to shake mine or grab a business card often leaves a moist impression.
What I like to see in a networker is energy! Not the kind of kinetic energy that has them bouncing around the room like a pinball, but a good strong enthusiastic smile, strong gait and a level of confidence when approaching and speaking to me. A smile is a prerequisite of attending networking events, and should be worn everywhere.
We’ve all met the shy introverted business owner who shows up because some business coach told them they need to network to grow their business. They often flounder until someone helps them out. As an energetic networker, it is your responsibility to seek out those people and assist them, introduce them to others you know and bring them into a friendly conversation.
I still remember the first event I attended as a business owner 11 years ago. Even though I am outgoing and love people, I was uncomfortable. Mike walked right over to me shook my hand, asked me who I was, what I did, and immediately said to me “What type of people are you hoping to meet” I could not have felt better walking out later that evening having met several people who I call friends today.
That leads me to the second key to effective networking. The environment. Start out small if you are new to networking. Attend some small social functions with business friends. Practice your approach in a non threatening friendly environment. You may fare much better in your efforts at approaching people in smaller settings. In my books, there are few social events or gatherings that are not opportunities to network. I learned early, that by speaking to people at events not specifically labeled networking, it was easier to talk about my business and ask about theirs. There was no expectation from the other person that I had to be perfect, that I knew the rules of engagement or that it was anything other than friendly conversation. The larger events represent opportunities for selective networking. You probably know more people, even casually who would be more than pleased to introduce you to contacts they know. The onus lies with you to ask them for the introduction.
Ensure that you understand the type of networking skill to utilize in different social environments. Family events, you can be more relaxed and comfortable. More formal social events like wedding receptions, dinners, gala’s etc require strategic minimal introductions and business card handoffs with “I’ll follow up next week, thank you”. Chance meetings at sports events for instance may allow only a few minutes for a brief interaction, with follow up made the following week to explore possible connections. Dedicated networking events, breakfasts, speaker series offer the opportunity for professional networking on a large scale, with people who are there for the same purpose you are. Make the most of them.
When you always have a business card with you, a smile on your face and a positive attitude towards helping others grow their business connections, you can handle any environment you find yourself in.