When you were young, your mother probably told you not to speak to strangers. Now as you go to functions and networking events it is vital that you do talk to strangers! And it is not easy.
Most people, when they go to functions, look out for someone they know and then hang around them like a lost puppy for the rest of the evening or better still stick to a work colleague! When asked by one’s boss the next day how did you get along, one is likely to say ‘great, had a good time, met a few people’. What your boss should have said was:- “did you collect useful business cards and can I see them, meet any existing clients and did you tell them about our new ….. , what promises did you make to send our marketing material to this morning?” More challenging and is certainly seeing if the event was worthwhile and could generate additional business.
Networking is difficult but it doesn’t have to be. It does require practice and the more confident you become about walking into a room of strangers and walking up to someone and saying “my name is …., how are you ?” the easier it will get. The results of networking are probably proportionate to how hard you work at it.
Marc Thornton, managing director of DTA Marketing sets out a concise ‘how to guide’ on networking. They are as follows:-
1. Set goals for the event
Decide if the event is to meet existing contacts or new prospects. Find out
who will be there in advance so that you can target particular individuals. Ask
staff who are organising the event to identify your targets so that you will
easily find them. Select the events you wish to attend based on likely
2. Bring your “Networking Tools”. Always have your business cards with you. There is nothing more embarrassing than to say “sorry forgot them”. Also make sure you bring a pen and paper as you may make a promise to someone and need to record it. Book early so that your name badge is printed in time.
3. Dress up – your appearance is crucial and is part of making a positive first impression. Don’t regret that you wore an old shirt or inappropriate attire! Also remember that how you shake hands will make a lasting impression. A weak handshake does not inspire confidence.
4. Elevator talk – when you get asked what you do, you could imagine you
are in an elevator with a stranger and have their undivided attention. The
challenge is to have this prepared in advance as it will only last 60 seconds
and you need to get your message across. Also listen first to what they do so
that you can personalise it and make best use of the occasion.
5. Listen and learn – you have two ears and one mouth and they should be used in that ratio! You can impress people by saying little and listening to them. You will probably be in the minority!
6. Talk to Strangers - When you were young, you were told “don’t talk to strangers”. Now at networking events you are being told that you must speak to strangers. It is not easy. You can impress them by learning their name and using it. Remembering names is easy – it starts by having a positive attitude and it helps if you repeat their name back to them. Also get and look at their business card. Try and link that person with someone you know, someone famous or an expression. I sometime say “You might remember me by ‘Marc for Marketing’ – it gets a laugh but it works!
7. Work the room – Move around the room. Be selfish and meet useful contacts but move on fast if they are not worth the time. Use your time well. Others will be doing the same thing. Maximise your seating arrangements if you are at a table. At breaks mix with others and introduce yourself to all at the table in case they might be useful.
8. People buy people first – when making a sale, people buy you as well as the company so you must impress. It is the first part of selling. Do get involved on organising committees as you will meet more people and maybe sit with important people or arrange the tables!
9. Givers gain – A well know networking concept - what you give, you get back! Link and introduce people to each other. They will want to return the favour. Ask them do they want to meet anyone and try and make introductions.
10. Keep promises - Most people don’t. That is why you need to bring the pen and paper so that you can record what you promised you said you would do. The next morning do it. It will create a powerful image of reliability and therefore the second impression!
Marc Thornton of DTA Marketing has written a book on Marketing and Customer Care called “Winning Lifetime Customers”. He was formally the marketing manager of Superquinn. He has been a member of Dublin Chamber of Commerce, Marketing Institute of Ireland, IMI, Business Network International (BNI) and PM Forum. He is currently a council member of The Irish Hotel and Catering Institute.