I have long enjoyed attending networking events for the opportunity to meet new people and benefit from information provided by the speakers. However, taking into consideration frugality in relation to costs and benefits, I have had occasion to wonder whether attending such events truly benefited me. Were the meeting fee and dues worth the expenditure in my precious time and money? Sometimes yes, and sometimes no. The success of the event depends on whether or not it is set up to maximize networking opportunities and the extent to which its attendees observe basic networking etiquette. Following are five tips that will help you get the most out of a networking event:
1) Build and cultivate relationships
The most important thing to keep in mind about networking is that it is synonymous with relationship building: establishing, cultivating, growing, and maintaining relationships. I don't know about you, but for me, networking is not sticking one's business card into my hand and saying "call me." This has happened to me more times than I care to remember. Those cards-if I take them at all-usually end up getting trashed because the person didn't take the opportunity to get to know me as a person or give me the chance to assess his or her sincerity by offering a simple: "What is your name? " "What is the nature of your business?" "How long have you been in business?" "What product or service does your business provide?" "How may I potentially be of assistance to you?"
Be sociable. Don't overdo it, yet don't be unsociable. Be yourself: natural, easy to talk to. Don't try too hard. Make eye contact. Shake the hand of new acquaintances firmly, neither shaking it limply nor squeezing it.
2) Generate targeted title/introduction
If you have multiple titles, think carefully about how you wish to be presented to the audience. I am an Author, Speaker, Instructor and Consultant. I generally request the "Author" title on my name badges because I purposely and intentionally wish to be asked what is the name of my book. Identifying myself as President of Rolling Enterprises, Inc., may not be as targeted and effective, as people will naturally inquire "What's that?" In that case, I'd better be prepared to have my succinct elevator pitch ready. Other times, I wish to emphasize the fact that I am a Financial Literacy Instructor. Assess each scenario on a case-by-case basis and do what best suits your circumstance.
3) Gather information
While profitability is the bottom line, networking isn't only about getting business; it's about exchanging information-gathering intelligence and, of course, making a sale. Information-sharing clubs, for example, share useful tips with one another. Such information may be useful in some way, shape, or form for your business. Do you know that sometimes an informational tip or a resource that I have received was just as valuable to me as making a sale?
4) Follow-up properly
If you do not feel you can follow up or deliver, then it's probably better to not make promises on the spot, particularly if you're interfacing with someone who follows up with due diligence. It is not fair to put him/her in a position to track you down, thereby making him/her out to be a pest. Likewise, determine how many times you are going to call or e-mail in order to follow-up with a prospect or referral.
5) Send a thank you note
Once a lead has been generated as a result of networking, be sure to thank the referrer. Believe it or not, even in this day and age of the Internet and the plethora of other wireless forms of communication like text-messaging, a hand-written thank you note is not out of style. You never know where it may lead.