Have you ever walked into a room filled with strangers and felt awkward? Have you wondered where to stand or how to start up a conversation or how to reply if someone spoke to you?
Maybe it was an open-networking event and you hesitated to reach out, afraid you’d be backed into a corner with a sales pitch or a compulsive talker.
Having to show up to network and market your business and yourself can feel like a lot of pressure! It does take preparation, practice, and awareness of people in the moment.
You can learn to skillfully navigate the room in business - and social – gatherings. Actually, an open-networking event is a lot like a social gathering. You can learn to handle it like a pro – and even enjoy it!
You’ve heard people say: it's not what you know but who you know that counts.
But, it doesn't matter who you know if you don’t know how to quickly build rapport and trust; demonstrate your abilities; and develop strong, positive, ongoing relationships.
Let’s look at a simple process designed to help you become more comfortable and successful as you prepare for an event, work the floor, and follow up afterward. This post is on preparing for an event:
NETWORKING 101 - Prepare early:
Do your homework: learn all you can about the event, know what to expect. Carefully choose your outfit: dress to both stand out and fit in and be comfortable, give your best first impression. Gather your collateral in an easy-to-carry bag or case: be ready to hand out business cards, flyers, etc. – but only IF there is interest, and certainly not to everyone. Set yourself a doable goal: maybe meet 3 new people, exceed your goal only if you feel comfortable. Prepare for the trip ahead of time: know your route, eat before you leave, leave early. Plan to get the most out of the event: view it as a business appointment and arrange your schedule so you can get there early, not be interrupted by your phone, and stay on a while after.
Before you enter the event room, put your name tag on the right side and your business cards in one pocket (or in a small card carrier that fits mostly in your palm). Now go in and find yourself a seat and/or a place to stash your things for later. Turn off your phone and put it away. Ideally, your hands are empty. That’s why you ate at home and stashed your stuff! Water or coffee is okay if you need security, hydration, or warm hands (but only half full). NOW you can sign in and be available to interact.
[In Part 2 we’ll look at how to work the floor and follow up.]