Network with confidence … Part I

For those of us who work alone or with a small staff, outside contacts and referral resources are vital to the success of our businesses. I have always regarded business networking as one of the best and most useful marketing tools available to any professional. Done well, with intent and planning, consistent networking activities can plant the seeds that grow into life-long business relationships and referral sources.

Gery_Context_WOWA_GLD_ENTERPRISES_SEPT_2014Put simply, business networking is the practice of making mutually beneficial connections. It is a way for any business professional to increase his or her area of influence and help generate long-term results. It’s not easy though and takes a great deal of work and planning to do it well. That’s why for some people, networking is little more than a social activity, zipping around from one after-hours even to another, collecting an arm’s length of names and business cards at a trade show, or just a place to grab a free lunch. They are really missing out.

Although I’ve always helped my clients and associates understand the importance of networking, what I didn’t realize, however, was how few people really know how to do it successfully. Some people don’t know how to do it at all.

I recently presented a series of lectures on the subject of strategic business development techniques. As part of each discussion, I decided to see how well my audience performed in a typical networking situation. During one of the lectures, I gave the group 30 seconds to introduce themselves to someone sitting nearby and find out whatever they could about them in that short time frame.

Each party was supposed to ask and answer questions effectively in order to obtain the most pertinent and beneficial information. The questions were of their own devising, I did no prompting as to what they would ask or what the responses would be.

To me, the exercise seemed like something right out of a 100-level business class. On the first attempt, however, I was amazed to learn, out of 35 people, that only two even offered a business card and most could not even remember a first name, let alone any important details.

These results demonstrated to me, and my class, just how unprepared people were to gain any value from a networking activity. After all, why attend chamber of commerce or other networking events if you don’t even know what to say or how to present yourself?

To be fair, most people don’t get a course on networking in business school. It’s a very specific set of learned skills that grow with practice and experience. Plus, some personalities are just better suited to it than others. With that in mind, here are a few pointers that can help.

First, go in prepared! Create and rehearse an, “elevator speech,” or what Business Network International (BNI) used to refer to as the “60-Second Commercial.” This is a one-minute presentation that identifies you, your business and even outlines a product or service – all in fewer than 60 seconds. It’s quick and informative and, once completed, leaves you ready to listen rather than speak.

The average person speaks at about 120 words per minute, so you should be ready with no more than 100 words, providing a built-in buffer for nervousness. Practice it before you attend an event.

Here’s a word of advice on practicing your elevator speech – don’t use a mirror. Using a mirror to rehears a talk is distracting and counter-productive. Mirrors cause us to focus on the wrong things – like that pimple you just noticed on your nose or that your tie doesn’t match your shirt, even when it probably does. Mirrors make us too critical of our appearance and we lose sight of the goal – to rehearse and memorize the words until they fall from the lips as easily as saying your name.

GLD_SLACKERAlways dress for success, but be aware of the setting and don’t overdo it. For most after-hours events, business casual is a good bet for men and women alike. But guys, you’ll never go wrong in a nice business suit and tie. No sweats, hoodies, jeans or t-shirts and avoid items with conflicting logos or markings that do not pertain to your business. (For more on this subject: http://geryldeer.com/the-branding-challenge-displaying-only-your-logo/)

When you arrive, look for a check in or welcome table. If you were asked to RSVP, there may be a protocol or agenda you’ll need to know. If the person who welcomes you does not do so, ask if you might have an introduction to the host, or hosts, to pay your respects. This is a great way to make sure you are remembered by the organizers and get to know them for your own purposes as well.

If there is a map or other guide, such as for a trade show, make sure to get a copy as soon as you arrive. Use it to familiarize yourself with the layout and use other key information available to identify any specific attendees you’d like to meet. Whenever possible, try to plan this list before you arrive so you have a sort of “battle plan” already in mind.  Also, make sure to say a brief, “hello” to people you already know, but your priority should be to spend the bulk of your time making new introductions.

END OF PART ONE … To read Part II download the PDF version of the entire article by clicking HERE.