I do lots of presentations each year that might be best described as networking events. Given that professional service firms rely very heavily on referrals and given that your network of contacts is a potentially rich source of referrals I thought I’d share some thoughts on how to make the most of networking opportunities. Here goes:
- Before you attend a networking event find out as much as you can about what the theme of the event is, who is likely to be there, give thought to who you would like to meet and what you would like to discover by attending. Do your research on the people (and their organization) who you expect to be there – when you get to meet them you will seem well-informed an on the ball. What better credential could you have as a representative of a professional service firm in the knowledge industry?
- Never be late for the event. If necessary get up 30 minutes earlier that day! When you’re early you can scope out the room, learn the names of people, get comfortable with the group and decide where you want to sit and who you want to get to know.
- Do NOT try to use the occasion to sell anything. Your purpose in being there is to meet people and to establish rapport through learning as much about them and their needs as you can. That means take your business cards by all means but do not take your brochures – if someone wants to learn more about you and your services, set up a later meeting (perhaps over a meal) and talk shop there.
- Take a small pocket notebook to make a note of things your discover, people you meet, promises you made etc. On this point take note of Stephen Covey’s 5th Habit – seek first to understand before being understood: develop your listening skills rather than your talking skills. You’ll be amazed at how fruitful this turns out to be for developing strong relationships.
- Never sit next to one of your associates. The purpose of attending the event is to meet people, why on earth would you want to sit next to someone you already know?
- Dress appropriately for the event. What is appropriate should have been determined as part of your discovery process that I discussed in point 1 above. Need I add, comb your hair, brush your teeth, polish your shoes, change your shirt if necessary – sorry, am I sounding like your mother?
- Follow up the people you met who you would like to form a relationship with.