Last week I was lucky enough to stumble upon Ben Parr’s post over at the AMEX Open Forum about how to become a savvier networker online. In his post, Ben shares some great tips for how to get and keep the attention of influencers.
But not all your social networking takes place online. And it’s the offline networking that’s often a lot more intimidating! With that in mind, I thought it may be useful to share some tips about how to become a better social networker when you’re at a conference or meeting someone in the flesh. What can you do to make sure you make those important connections and don’t leave the conference without any new contacts?
Here are some tips for social networking offline, just like we used to do it before the age of Twitter.
Set goals for yourself: If you’re unlucky enough to follow me on Twitter it may come as a surprise to hear that I’m actually pretty introverted in real life. Okay, horribly introverted. It’s difficult for me to simply go up and approach people. To make it a bit easier, I’ve learned to turn it into a competition with myself by setting networking goals.
For example, it may be that I want to tell ten new people about my company, Outspoken Media. Maybe I want to get an introduction with an editor I really admire. Or maybe I just want to be grab face time with a social media heavyweight like Chris Brogan. [Note: If you constantly tweet about wanting to meet Chris and then run away when he looks at you, he may follow you into the hallway to introduce himself. True story.] Whatever it is you want to accomplish, write it down as a way of holding yourself accountable. It’s a little easier to get the nerve to say hello to someone when you’ve told yourself you can’t go home and hide under the covers until you do.
Arrive with something to share: When you show up at a conference or networking mixer, come with something to share. For a brief moment you’re going to be surrounded by people who may all have the possibility to help your business through partnership, mentorship or just plain friendship. Put your best face forward and have something to bring to the conversation. Whether you have something to share about your own business or something you can ask someone about theirs, have those first few talking points already mapped out to help take the pressure off a little bit. Sometimes knowing where to start is all you need to get the conversation flowing. If you’re attending a very large conference or major industry event, you want to plan some of your unveilings around the actual conference. This will not only help make sure you have something to bring to the table but it’s a good way to start some buzz.
Know who you want to talk with: Part of knowing what you want to say means knowing who you want to talk to. Oftentimes even the smallest networking event will post a guest list beforehand to let you know who is going to be attending. Do your homework and look up some of the people who will be there. This will help you have some talking points but it will also alert you to who in the room could most help you grow your business. For example, you may be able to better identify influencers or people who that you could partner with for promotions. Putting names to faces before you show up also helps cure early nerves. Not that meeting people in real life can be at all intimidating. Of course not.
Ask people to introduce you: Okay, fine it is! It can be really intimidating! If you’re a little shyer than you’d like to admit, why not ask the organizer of the event to introduce you to someone you’ve really been wanting to meet or find a common contact and ask them to do the introduction? Another tactic I’ve always used to meet people is to find the extrovert in the room and become their best friend. This person will love the fact that they have a new person to talk to and they’ll help introduce you to everyone else in the room. Make sure to thank them after the event!
Leave your comfort circle: One reason we attend networking event without ever meeting anyone is because we sit with the same five people we already know and never leave our pack. Obviously there’s a great comfort associated with this type of behavior, however, it not going to help you break out of your own circle of friends. Don’t be afraid to go out on your own and introduce yourself to people. Find the person in the room that you don’t know and strike up a conversation with them. Is it terrifying? Oh my goodness, yes. But you’ll feel a lot better once you leave that event with a lot more business cards in your pocket. Even if you set a goal of only meeting one new person an event, start there.
Don’t pitch, listen: Don’t be so focused on your own goals that you fail to listen to what anyone else is saying. Before you speak, listen. Listen to what concerns your colleagues have, hear about what they’re up to, learn about the methods they’re using. When there’s a chance for you to be helpful or lend some insight, speak up. Then share what you’re doing and how things are working. It’s the simple art of conversation that people tend to forget once they walk into a room with their “agendas” and “business propositions”. Don’t be so focused on your business that you forget to be human. No one wants to talk to that person.
Check in once you’re home: You’re not off the networking hook once the event ends. Make sure to follow up with anyone you chatted with to keep the lines of communication open. Whether it’s sending them an email, following them on Twitter or Facebook or even making plans to meet up for coffee in the near future, extend that relationship whenever you can. This helps them lock your name/face into their mental Rolodex and turns them from acquaintance to friend in the making!
With so many of us devoting time to networking online, sometimes we forget how to do it offline, as well. When you have a chance to attend a meetup or event in your area, get the most out of it by talking to people and forming real in-person relationships.