Networking is a necessary evil for us small business owners. We need to take advantage of every networking opportunity we can and for many of us, this is the most difficult part of growing our business.
I’m a wallflower by nature. Put me in a room full of strangers and I’ll strategically place myself near the food table to watch and listen. I’m fine if someone starts talking to me. I can carry on a decent conversation without embarrassing myself, but as for walking up to a group of people I don’t know and start chatting… well, I’d rather gnaw off my arm.
Sound familiar? What can you do to make networking events less painful and more productive?
I’m a geek. I make no excuses or apologies but I do use this trait to my best advantage.
Thanks to online registration, I can also see who else is going to be at an event. This gives me the opportunity to check out the other attendees. I can look at their website, read their blog follow them on Twitter to learn more about them, see what they do, get an idea of who they are and come up with a few conversation starters.
From this, I can make a list of people who I want to meet either because I like what they have to say or I see them as potential clients or business partners. People love hearing, “I read your blog/saw your website. I was really impressed and was hoping to have a chance to chat with you.”
Start conversations before the function. Twitter and Linkedin offer great opportunities to communicate with people. Use them to start discussions and introduce yourself before an event. This increases the number of people who will want to initiate in-person conversations with you.
Arrive on time (or even a few minutes early). For me nothing is more intimidating that walking into a room full of people already engrossed in conversations. If you arrive on-time the host will often have a few minutes to chat and may introduce you to others. People also tend to be more welcoming at the start of an event. They’re looking for new faces. (and if they’ve followed my advice, they could also be closet wallflowers, so you’ve already got that in common)
Wear a name-tag. Most networking events I’ve gone to have name-tags provided, but it never hurts to have one of your own just in case. Most of the conversations I’ve managed to start are, “Oh you’re [insert name here] I was hoping I’d meet you.”
Volunteer. If you help set up an event, you’ll have automatic venue-advantage. By the time attendees start arriving you’re comfortable in your surroundings and you’ll already know several people. If you work the registration desk, you’re automatically introducing yourself to everyone in the room.
Watch your alcohol intake. Unless your company specializes in table dancing or making a fool of yourself, be careful of your alcohol consumption. Having a drink to relax is fine, but know your limit and stay within it.
Oh and wear comfortable (yet presentable) shoes. It’s hard to absorb what others say when your mind is clouded with pain updates from your toes 🙂 A three hour, standing-room-only reception is not the place to break in your new stilettos not matter how stunning they look.
This week I’m going to try something different. I’m officially opening the floor to request your networking tips for wallflowers. Post a comment with your suggestion. I’d love to hear from you!
Have a great week!