I dread networking, and due to being pregnant and then recently giving birth, it has been several months since I attended a networking event

So a few weeks ago when I went to a rather large networking event, I have to admit I was pretty rusty. I was okay to get conversations started, but I had the hardest time keeping them going. I think I still have “pregnancy brain” because all I could think about was diapers and baby burping. It was basically a waste of my time to even go. I was nervous, awkward, and wished I was more like my co-worker Anita, the Networking Queen. I want to change, because I want to conquer my fear and get better in something I am failing at, so I decided to ask Anita what should I do to improve my networking skills?

The tips she offered me were:

  1. It’s all about the preparation: Define what your goals are for the evening.

How many “real” conversations do you want to engage in? How many 1-2-1 follow up meetings do you expect to get from the conversations – and “one” is a perfectly acceptable answer, because if you achieve that you’ll still be doing better than 90% of the other people at the event. Try to only connect with 3-5 contacts per week. Any more will lead to exhaustion, and make sure to keep your calendar up to date so you know who you have contacted.

  1. Focus on the “right” type of people for you. Don’t waste time or carry on a dead end conversation.

Who are your prospects? Concentrate on finding them and engaging them in conversation. If you are selling business coaching services, don’t spend all evening talking to a public school teacher (yeah, I did that once!).

  1. It’s not about you!

As interesting as you may think you are to other people, they are nowhere as interested in you as they are in themselves. The best conversationalists ask a few powerful, open ended questions and listen. Questions like “Tell me your story…”, or “What caused you to follow this line of work?” are open ended and will force the other party to really think about their answers.

  1. Be approachable and keep your right hand free- you must shake hands!

Don’t stand in the corner of the room, go to the middle, make your rounds. Smile, say hello and introduce yourself. I have found that the most difficult part of any networking conversation by far is the introduction, but really, how difficult is it to walk up to someone you don’t know, smile, stretch out your hand and say “Hi, I’m Mia”? Their automatic response will be to reciprocate with their name and a handshake. Now you’re off with your open ended questions (see point 3).

  1. Build a relationship

When it feels like the conversation is drawing to a natural close, ask if they’d like to exchange business cards – oh yes, I forgot to tell you that I’ve turned up to networking events without business cards too. BIG fail. On their business card- write the date, info, and personal information so you remember facts when you contact them. Tell them that you’d like to follow up with a 1-2-1 over the next couple of weeks. Our company, (Jager Consulting) will use their information to add to our newsletter email system (Constant Contact). So we always ask if they would mind receiving our emails, Remember you won’t get a client right on the spot, and that isn’t the intention you are building a relationship.

  1. Get a reason to stay in touch

“My daughter needs an internship…” or “You talked about how you were using social media as part of your marketing strategy…..” are great reasons to ask to get together later. DO NOT make them feel like they are a prospect for you. You are asking for help, and they will want to help you.

  1. Get THEIR info.

They can easily lose your business card, but if you want to stay in touch you need their information Some people may have genuinely forgotten their business cards. Make sure you have a pen and paper handy so they can write it down for you. Something I have seen is that someone is down to their last card and is reticent to hand it over. No problem, just take a photo of their card on your phone.

  1. Catch a referral while you are at it

Example: “Hey, if you know anyone needing an IT company (or whatever your business deals with) it would be great if you would consider my company.

  1. Make sure to end with a graceful exit!

Hand them your business card, mention a fact showing you were listening to the conversation, let them know if you were going to keep in touch, and thank them. And then move on.

This is Anita’s process. If any of you have ever met her out networking, you will know how effective she is. I took this information and will put it to use at my next networking event, where hopefully it will open more doors to potential clients.