With all the social networking we do today, it’s easy to forget that face-to-face networking is an important component of business success. While connecting and communicating online can help your business network grow, there’s nothing better than making or strengthening business connections in person.
When you're meeting people in person with whom you've previously only had an online relationship, the trick is not to fumble the networking ball. When you get the opportunity to attend a networking event, the following tips can help you create stronger connections with your online contacts.
Prepare for Success
The most important thing to remember is that networking doesn’t begin when you arrive at the function. You'll serve your network—and your business—far better if you predetermine your purpose for attending the event.
1. Set a networking goal.
Prior to the event, take a few minutes to think about why you’re attending. Are there certain people you’d like to meet? What do you expect to accomplish by attending? Determining your purpose and goals in advance will guide your actions so you don’t spend your precious time simply meeting a bunch of new people. Begin with the end in mind by asking yourself, “What would make this networking event successful for my business?”
2. Go with giving in mind.
You don’t want to be one of those people everyone runs away from because you’re known as a “taker.” Think about what you have to give to others. With new contacts, think about what actions you might be able to offer to help them achieve their objectives. Can you connect a contact to someone they’ve been dying to meet? Don’t forget to have your 10-second introduction ready. People need to know how you can help them, so make sure you sound natural, not pitch-y. A good technique for a quick introduction is to use the “Do you know” approach. For example, “Do you know how hard it is for most small-business owners to manage social media? Well, I help them do that.”
While You’re There
Good business relationships begin with the first hello. Do it right, and you'll reap the benefits over the long term.
3. Be the first to break the ice.
Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, networking face to face can be a challenge. One of the best things you can do is to arrive early and act like the host of the party. Most people will be uncomfortable walking into a room full of strangers. You should be the first stranger they turn into a new contact. A simple “Hello, I'm (your name), and I'm so glad we're finally meeting in person” can do wonders to get things started.
4. Get others to do the talking.
Most people like to talk about themselves. So once the introductions are over, continue the conversation by using open-ended questions that keep the discussion going—any question that can’t be answered with a simple yes or no will do. And don’t forget to walk around. People arrive at different intervals so you’ll want to make sure you don’t spend all your time with just one person. That means you’ll need to exit gracefully. One of the best ways to do that is to introduce the person you're speaking with to someone else (if possible) or make a comment about how much you’ve enjoyed talking with them but that you don’t want to monopolize their time. Then move on.
Go Full Circle
You aren’t done once the event is over. Not following through on what you’ve promised—to yourself or others—means the time you spent was just wasted.
5. Keep your word no matter what.
If you had a discussion during your meetup that requires a follow up, take care of it right away. If you promised to send a person something or make a follow-up call, make sure you do it. You'll lose the credibility you worked so hard to earn if you say you’ll do something and then never do it.
6. Check in and say thanks.
Within a week of the meeting, make sure you check in with your new or revitalized contacts. Grow your relationships with them by connecting via social media. If you provided someone with information, check to see how it worked out. If you connected them to someone new, follow up to see if the contact was valuable. Most important, don't forget to say thank you. It will make you more memorable and make your new contact feel special to receive a heartfelt thank you from you.
Following these six tips for your next meetup will help you connect more successfully during your networking efforts.
Do you have a networking tip that's worked really well for you? Please share it with us in the comments below.
For more tips on how to help build and optimize your business connections, access our exclusive video series with MSNBC: Networking: Making Connections to Build a Better Business.
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