You may be one of millions of professionals and small business owners who attended networking events organized by a chamber of commerce or other business organizations and were disappointed with the results.
Many business owners and professionals find networking events frustrating and a waste.
Two basic problems are usually the cause of frustration and wasted time:
1. Expectations that are too high
2. No plan of attack
The networking events that are organized by a chamber of commerce or other business organizations, especially those with a more general focus, won’t provide you with an abundance of prospects.
You have done well if you are able to leave a networking event, having made three or four potential contacts. Many people, particularly those who don’t enjoy networking, attend these events in the hopes of walking away with a stack of cards from great prospects.
If their expectations aren’t met, they decide that networking isn’t worth it and their time would be better spent somewhere else.
Most attendees also do not have a plan to maximize their time. Instead of having a plan, most attendees show up, hoping to “run” into prospects. If you are a regular attendee and have realistic expectations, then networking can pay off in the end.
Three “secrets” are needed to make networking work:
Where are you going?
It is just as important to know who will be attending an event that you’re considering as it is actually to participate in the event. You should always try to obtain a list of members if you plan to participate in an event you’ve never been to before.
You can have a good idea about the people you will meet by looking at the directory of members. Plan to attend if there appears to be a good number of businesses and people of interest.
Why you are going
Decide how many contacts you will make. Decide how many connections are necessary to justify your time investment. This number could be as low as one, two, or five connections, depending on the product or service you offer.
By setting realistic and objective criteria, it is easy to determine if your time spent at the event was worthwhile or if you would like to attend again in the future.
Use a system to manage the event.
The real killer of networking events is not the people who attend or their unrealistic expectations. It is the time that they waste at the event. Planning and having a vision for how you want to spend your time are essential when working on a networking event.
The following method of networking is easy to use and effective for me and many of my clients.
Arrive at least 15 minutes prior to the event’s official start time. Wear a permanent, large, easy-to-read nametag. Naturally, it would be best if you had a lot of business cards. Backs of business cards should be left blank. Wear clothing that has two pockets you can easily reach.
Position yourself near the entrance door, close enough for people to mistake you as one of the hosts. As each person enters, greet them. You don’t need to do much more than welcome them and, hopefully, note their company name. All you really want to know is a person’s name so that you can quickly judge whether or not they are a potential prospect.
As soon as the arrivals slow down, start moving around the room. You can only move in one direction, either left or right. Greet your first contact or group. The conversations in this round should last no more than two to three minutes. You want to learn as much about the person you just met in as little time as possible.
Keep the conversation focused on your partner or other people you are talking to. You will likely not remember the names of many people you meet.
You will start to separate the cards by interest and non-interest since many if not all, will give you a card. If you think you would like to learn more about someone, a potential prospect, put their business card in the right pocket. Place the cards of people you do not believe to be prospects in your left pocket.
The system lets you quickly find cards for those people you wish to reconnect with at the event without the need to remember their names.
Before moving on to the next group, let someone know that you are interested in their business. Ask for permission to contact them via phone later. If they agree, write on the back of one of your cards the date and time you plan to call. For example, “Thursday, March 12 between 10:30-11:30”.
This will ensure that everyone whom you wish to contact knows the same day and time. This way, you don’t have to worry about remembering when to call. You can also make multiple calls in an hour without worrying that you won’t meet your appointment.
Continue in this way for the remainder of the event. Enter your final phase about 30-45 minutes before the event ends.
Last, take the cards you have in your pocket to try and reconnect with them. It will be your third opportunity to meet and put a face to a name. Since this will be your third time meeting them, they will begin to feel that they know you and will likely greet you more as a close friend than as a new acquaintance. You are planting your name and your face into their minds just as you implant their name and their face in yours through multiple meetings during the event.
The third conversation is a bit more detailed, but again, focus on the person you are talking to. You could move the conversation on to invite the person out to lunch rather than a Thursday phone call. Before moving on to the next person, mention again the phone call you made on Thursday. Also, hand out a second business card that has the same information on the back.
On Thursday, make your phone calls and close for a get-to-know-one-another meeting.
This structure allows you to “meet” or “converse” with a prospect three times throughout an event. It also helps you and your chance move quickly from the “just-met” stage to the acquaintance stage. You don’t have to remember anything during the event.
You’ll enjoy and profit from your networking event if you set realistic expectations and spend your time on only the true prospects.