All the excitement of starting your company has led you to this point: getting business. You need clients, so what do you do? You join a networking event. But the skip in your step and the confident air in your chest all disappears the second you walk into the room because you suddenly realise that you don’t know what to do. Not all of us are blessed with a natural ability to talk to strangers but don’t fret, take a deep breath and start talking, it will soon seem like a breeze.
Choose Your Targets Wisely.
The first point of entering a room is the most daunting. You feel like the only person who doesn’t know anyone, so how do you approach people already in conversation and avoid that far-too-easy bypass to the buffet? Body language. People give a lot away with how they are standing. If a pair or group are standing in an enclosed shape (i.e. facing each other directly or in a closed triangle/circle) then they are probably deep in a conversation that you would not want to interrupt. On the other hand, if they are standing open to the room (i.e facing outwards whilst talking, looking around a lot or standing in more of a V shape for groups) then they are likely to be open to a further party. You.
So you’re sauntering over to a pair of people who are standing open and willing to talk, but what will you say when you get there? Your mind has gone blank! Disaster! Before you know it, you’ve bypassed to the buffet where you can fill your face with food and not talk to anyone at all. Come armed with conversation strikers by considering what you might say to people before going, such as:
I haven’t been to one of these events before, have you? What are they like?
Do you know what topics xxx is talking on later?
What is it that you do?
Anything you can recommend from the buffet? (they should really be eating to ask this one, and this doesn’t mean to immediately leave and go to the buffet either)
Otherwise, you may wish to comment on something about the person, without being rude of course. Perhaps they’re holding a book you’ve read or are wearing a shirt that you have.
Hooray! You’ve made your way into a conversation. But now you have to keep it up. Listen attentively and ask questions. If the conversation dwindles you can always go back to something that they said and prompt for more detail. Concern yourself with the other person, this will show them that you are friendly and interested, whilst giving you the opportunity to relax and learn if you might be able to work together in the future.
Prepare For Your Pitch.
At some point, they are going to ask about you. You should be prepared and have rehearsed. Know your key points, be short, be honest and don’t oversell yourself, but do mention any achievements by naturally adding them into the conversation. They are likely to ask you follow up questions as well so there’s no need to tell them every single detail off the mark.
Don’t Get Stuck.
Networking events are there for you to meet lots of people, not just one. Don’t be afraid to move on and speak with other people, it is what you are there for and so are they so you won’t be offending anyone. Exchange business cards and politely move on after exchanging pleasantries. If you are really struggling with this, simply use the buffet or getting a cup of tea as a bit of an excuse, you’ve earned your nibble and a breather but don’t get stuck at the buffet either!
So you’ve survived your first networking event. Make sure you don’t forget the people you have met by jotting important information on the back of their business cards and get in contact within a few days, connecting with them on social media as well if you can.
Most importantly, don’t forget to smile and enjoy yourself. You are getting out there and generating some business with like-minded people who are just as interested to talk to you too.
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