I’m not an expert networker. I’m sort of shy about approaching people and often worry about saying the wrong thing in conversation. I try to portray confidence, but the truth is, I’m not always confidnet in my ability.
I practice though. As a freelancer I knew I needed to meet the right kind of people to get my career going as opposed to relying solely on the online world. I started attending local professional events and even became president of a local woman’s group in order to expand my career. The networking on a local level helped me to be more confident as I began attending conferences.
Now, I network for other reasons – to find speakers for my own conference, evangelize to potential attendees, and spread the word about my book – but the methods I use remain the same.
I’ve been told I’m a good networker, but I don’t know if that’s true. The truth is, I enjoy talking with people and I love making new friends, and that’s how I approach networking even if I’m at a professional event.
If you poll a room filled with conference attendees about why they’re there, the top reason will most likely be to network. However, it’s my experience too many people feel being professional means being stiff and business-like. Worse, too many people feel networking is selling. It’s neither being stiff or smarmy. Rather, networking is a way to meet other people and determine if they’re right for your business, collaboration, or friendship.
Here are some of my rules for successful networking. When you’re done reading, I hope you’ll let us know if you agree or disagree with any of these, or offer your own tips for networking.
25 Essential Conference Networking Tips
- Consider why you’re there – Are you at the networking event to sell? Make a name for yourself? Promote something? Why you’re there makes a big difference in the types of people you meet and talk to.
- Determine why you’re different from everyone else – Not better, but different. If you’re in a conference hall with 4,000 people all sharing common interests, it’s good to have a reason to stand out. And by standing out I don’t mean being brash, obnoxious, brutally honest or loud. Making people feel uncomfortable isn’t conducive to good networking.
- Don’t just cling to A-listers - There are more B, C, D, E & Z listers at any given event than A-listers. They may not have the huge reach someone well-known might have, but you have a better chance of building relationships and spending time getting to know someone who may not be so busy. Also, today’s C-lister may be tomorrow’s A-lister. Finally, I’ve been very disappointed by some of the attitudes of people on the A-list. Just because someone is successful, doesn’t mean he’s someone you want to emulate or associate with.
- Don’t sell – Networking isn’t selling, though if you’re a good networker you can land sales. Sales pitches turn people off, and no one wants to be cornered in an elevator. Just talk. Eventually what you do will come into it and if the other party is interested she’ll ask to learn more. Being pushy is a turnoff, not a selling point.
- Don’t brag – If the conversation is all about you and your achievements, you’ll soon find yourself alone. Networking is more about listening than talking.
- Find common ground - We all have something in common whether it’s a job, hobby or kids. When we find people with whom we share an interest, we share a kinship of sorts and that leads to trust.
- Don’t start off with “who are you with?“- Every time I attend a conference in NYC, the “Who are you with?” crowd comes out. It’s their opening introductory line. They don’t say, “Hi, my name is so and so, tell me about you…” They say, “who are you with?” as if where I work is more important than who I am or what I do. If I’m not with someone you deem important will you walk away? I don’t get this opening line at all.
- Don’t offer a business card for the sake of offering a business card – I’m going to share something very few people are willing to admit. Most people who you hand off your business card to won’t use it. They’ll throw it away or put it in some business card graveyard in their office and never look at it again. Business cards are definitely useful and have their place at networking events, but handing them out just for the sake of handing them out is a waste. Give it to someone who you made a connection with and who you know will find it useful. Don’t give them out just because you have them.
- Watch the salty talk – Before you start swearing or telling bawdy stories, be sure the people you’re talking with are comfortable with that. Most people aren’t and you won’t make the right impression.
- Meet a variety of people - Don’t just go for your niche. Meet people who do a variety of different jobs for a variety of different places. You all have the ability to work together or learn from each other.
- Don’t stalk - If there’s someone you want to meet, by all means do what you can to meet him. But don’t follow him around for five days because that’s just creepy. People avoid stalkers.
- Make introductions – Make sure everyone who is having a conversation together knows each other. If you see someone who may not know everyone in your group, make some introductions. There are times when you don’t know everyone either, and you’re thankful when someone else brings you into the conversation. It works both ways.
- Make everyone a part of the conversation - When I first started attending conferences I was afraid to join in an existing conversation for fear of butting in. Fortunately, others in the conversation made me feel at ease and drew me in by asking me questions or making others aware of what I do. If you see someone listening in but not interacting, they’ll be so grateful if you make them part of the conversation too.
- Instead of waiting to talk, listen – The problem with many conversations is they’re made up of two people talking and no one listening. Too many of us aren’t listening, but rather, waiting for the other person to to stop talking so we can start talking again. How can you learn about someone else if you’re not listening. Networking isn’t about you. It’s about having a conversation and seeing where it takes you.
- Don’t apologize for every little thing – When we’re nervous, insecure and feeling awkward we tend to apologize for every little thing. But the problem with this is it makes others feel as if you’re nervous, insecure and feeling awkward. Don’t apologize for things that are not your fault or not worthy of an apology, but do apologize for missteps.
- Ask questions - When you’re networking, you’re doing so to make new connections, whether that’s readers for your blog, to drive sales, to learn and share ideas, to promote something or to collaborate. How can you do this without asking questions and learning about the other person or people taking part in your conversation. I say this often: networking isn’t about you. It’s never about you. The end result may be about you or your business, but networking is always about the other guy and how you can work together.
- Don’t embellish – Don’t lie about your career. Don’t make up things you didn’t do or inflate traffic or sales numbers. When it turns out you’re lying, and embellishers or exaggerations are almost always found out, it just makes people not want to do business with you. Be honest about your details and why you’re there and you’ll find folks are more receptive.
- Don’t go for “yes” or “no” questions – When you ask “yes” or “no” questions, the only responses you’ll receive are “yes” or “no.” That doesn’t make up much of a conversation, does it?Ask the types of questions people can expand upon. Take it beyond the “yes” and “no.”
- Don’t get too personal - TMI. Don’t do it. People don’t want to know about your past hookups or how drunk you were the night before, as much as you think it’s a really cool ice breaker. Also? Don’t drop names, it only makes folks roll their eyes.
- Don’t talk about your problems – People are polite. They’ll listen and nod, and even give free advice. Truthfully, though, total strangers don’t care about why your boss hates you or your ex-wife’s affair. No one wants to be around Debbie Downer, and personal details are personal, anyway.
- Work the room – Don’t wait for people to come to you. Instead, make your way around the room and meet different groups of people and take part in different conversations. You’ll meet many more people this way and make a good impression as someone with confidence and drive.
- Don’t try to impress – Name dropping, number dropping and listing achievements to everyone who didn’t ask (and even some who did) only makes you look like a blowhard. There are ways to talk yourself up without making it look like a steaming pile of ego. And frankly, people who want to learn about your achievements are going to Google you anyway.
- Shake hands – It works.
- Learn about the networking event and the people who will be there - Take time before you go to the conference to learn about why it’s being held, the exhibitors, the speakers, the content and the attendees. Learning about why people are there and what they hope to achieve by attending, will also help you work out your own angle for approaching people and finding common ground.
- Follow up – Ok, you attended a conference, shook hands, collected business cards and came home. Now what? Don’t wait for people to call you. Instead contact the people you’re hoping to connect with. Follow them on the social networks and build a true relationship. Send an email letting them know how much you enjoyed the conversation and see where that takes you. If you come home and never contact these people again, your networking was a complete waste of time and money.
Now it’s your turn. What do you think of my networking strategy? Am I doing it wrong? Do you have good tips to share too?