Most of us fall into one of two categories: we either love, or we loathe, business networking events. I definitely fall into the former category, both because I am more the outgoing type and because it has been a highly valuable source of business growth for me. However, I get that we are not all the same and that yakking it up with relative strangers does not necessarily come naturally to everyone.
So, let me help!
A little planning and preparation will go a long way toward giving you the confidence you need to do well with business networking. Here are some helpful tips:
- Have your elevator pitch down: Yes, yes, I know everyone talks about this. Given that, it’s surprising how few people in business actually do it! It is agonizing to me to watch a business owner flounder and fumble over their words or launch into a ten-minute detailed technical description of their product or service or talk from Genesis to Revelation and still leave the listener with no clue what they actually do. I provide workshops and training on effective elevator pitches, and I can absolutely help you with yours, but let me give you a short primer: “I help [audience] with [problem] to [solution] so that [benefit].” If you keep it that simple, and say it in grade nine level language, you’ll be well on your way.
- Prepare 6 – 8 key messages: The point of sharing your elevator pitch is not to fully inform your audience regarding your business; it is to invite a conversation. Such a conversation has to start with curiosity. If curiosity is not sparked in the person listening to your elevator pitch, you have work to do. Having key messages prepared and sitting, waiting, in the back of your mind, will help you have well-prepared answers to the questions that are sparked by their curiosity. Sometimes, I have seen people will a polished elevator pitch fall apart at this stage, because they hadn’t taken this extra step and weren’t prepared to answer questions. At a networking event, most people genuinely want to know about your business so they can make a connection and perhaps take things further. Having these key messages is going to mean you have great answers at the ready so the conversation can keep flowing and people can get to know you and your business better. Win/win!
- Get the jump: I mentioned this last week, but it bears repeating. Most people’s nervousness centres around having to talk about themselves. You can buy yourself time to settle in and get comfortable by being the first to ask the other person about their business, instead of waiting for them to ask you about yours. If you have a great conversation and click well while talking about their business, it is going to be infinitely easier for you when it comes time to talk about yourself and what you do.
- Get a commitment: If the connection is good and you really want to take things to the next step, don’t leave the conversation without contact information and a commitment to be in touch. Let the other party know when you will be in touch (“I will email you by the end of the week”, for example). Follow up is the key to taking networking from “Happy Talk” to “Real Business”.
- Know when to exit: Don’t keep the person talking when you sense that the conversation is winding down. This is intuitive, which is true of a lot of networking. Experience will help you hone your intuition about these things, so just keep practicing! Gracefully ending the conversation is a bit of an art, but it is important. No one wants to be held hostage in a conversation when there are other people with whom to connect. Know that you are not the only person in the room and offer your conversation partner an opportunity to meet with others as well.
Practice Makes Perfect
Honestly, you will get confident and comfortable if you put in the work. Find as many appropriate networking opportunities as you can and dive in. As the saying about courage goes, “Be scared and do it anyway!” and, of course, let me know if I can help.
As always, Stay on Point!