For most, face-to-face networking presents a bit more of a personal challenge. Yet it’s so important – even in a day and age when we’ve all grown accustomed to counting (and monetizing!) our friends, fans or followers. How quickly we can forget the intrinsic value of looking someone in the eyes and shaking their hand.
No doubt about it; it’s an investment in energy and time. Professional conferences, company-sponsored events, expos and bona fide networking groups all provide fertile ground for making important business contacts that can result in new partnerships, new sales or new employment opportunities. Here are five ways to make the most of it:
1. Break the ice. If small talk doesn’t come naturally to you, a surefire way to spark conversation is to divert attention to someone else. Ask open-ended questions to take the focus off of you – and relieve your unease. (“What brings you here?” “What did you think about the last speaker?”)
2. Be prepared. When attention does turn to you, be ready with your 30-second “elevator” speech. It’s a brief synopsis of your company that you can tell quickly. For others to care, it should address a want, need or desire of your customers.
3. Pack your business cards. Digital world? Sure. And yet a tried-and-true staple like a business card remains an essential. Distribute them freely.
4. Go multi-channel. Go the next step with the business cards you collect, and reach via social networks, like LinkedIn. Skip the standard default message, and remind your contacts where and when you met in the invitation.
5. Have a follow-up plan. Just like your personal relationships, business connections grow and evolve over time . . . but not without effort. Reach out regularly and share relevant information – links to articles of interest, for example – with those whom you’d like to know better. And keep the conversation going.