So you’ve pulled out your best — or, er, only — suit and spruced up for a networking event. You’ve avoided face-to-face networking for a while, as you can’t stand small talk and the idea of being in a room full of a bunch of strangers makes your eyes cross. Yet, here you are, at this networking event, looking for your next client.
If you’re like a lot of writers, you enjoy working online because it means you can meet people and network from the comfort and safety of your home, just you in your pajamas in front of your computer. You can comment on blog posts, Tweet those whose work you like, and send Facebook friend requests in a nonthreatening way that doesn’t make you feel weird.
But you’ve now realized that, as great as the online world is, it doesn’t hurt to get out into the real world every now and then and meet people face-to-face.
So here you are, at your networking event, hands shoved in pockets and mouth glued shut as you stand next to the punch bowl, scanning the room for someone you can give your business card.
If this is you, then check out these seven ways you can make your next networking event work for you:
1. Relax. Don’t expect to come out of this networking event with a new client. The purpose of this networking event isn’t to land a new client on the spot. The purpose is to make a new contact, or to get in front of an old one. You want to strike up a conversation and find a commonality. Exchange contact information. It takes repeated contact before someone goes from seeing you as just someone they met at an event to someone they want to do business with. Even if they express interest in what you do, it doesn’t mean they are ready to do business with you. They need to see who you are over possibly a half dozen encounters before they may be ready to spend money with you.
2. Be present. Really focus on the conversation at hand. Don’t scan the room looking for the next person to chat up. Instead, listen to what this person is saying. Often, we go to networking events and try to go through the room and talk to as many people as possible, without remembering anything about anyone and without making an impression on anyone. Instead, focus on quality of interaction. That doesn’t mean you have to talk with every person for 20 minutes, but it does mean whether you talk for two minutes or 20, you are engaged in the conversation. It’s better to connect with two or three people in a genuine way than to make contact with everyone in the room in a rushed way, only halfway listening.
3. Ask open-ended questions. Don’t ask yes or no questions when you are trying to engage someone at a networking event. Ask questions that require explanation or elaboration. Some questions to help you break the ice: “Why did you come to this event?” “How do you know the person hosting this event?” “What do you like to do when you’re not at events like this?” Naturally, you’ll tweak the questions so they sound natural coming off your tongue. These are nonthreatening questions that allow you to engage the other person and learn something about him or her. Listen to the answers to find common ground. Perhaps your reasons for attending the event are the same. Or perhaps you find that you have a similar past time when you are not attending events like this. Share your own experience with the person, but don’t hog the conversation. This conversation might show you that you and the person have something in common or that you may be able to help the person in some way. Explore that and set a time to follow up later, if appropriate. The conversation will no doubt touch on work, so tell the person briefly what you do, but let the conversation guide you as to how long you talk about work. If the conversation just doesn’t go anywhere or you see you and this person aren’t particularly interested in each other, that’s OK. Just politely wrap up the conversation and move on.
4. Repeat the name. Repeat the person’s name to help it stick in your mind. Use it in a sentence when you reply to something that’s been said: “Nice to meet you, Pat.” Or “Wow, Pat, that sounds really interesting.” Once you’ve finished the conversation, if you want to make sure you remember who the person is later, make a quick note on the back of the card about the nature of the conversation or something else that will help you remember who the person is once you are back at your desk.
5. Look for a way to help. Consider the conversation you’ve just had. Did the person mention a need he or she has or talk about a particular interest? If so, then consider whether you can help the person meet this need. For instance, if the person mentioned that he is looking for a job and you know someone who is hiring, consider telling the person about the opening. If you saw a way to help the person, then make the offer of help. This is not about landing a new client. This is just being helpful to the other person, so the offer of help doesn’t have to be related to your work, in fact, if it’s not related to your work, all the better! Most people go into networking seeking only what they can get. Instead, go into it looking for what you can give. Don’t worry, if you give, you’ll find that you get, too. That’s just the law of giving.
6. Reach out. Let the person know when you will follow up. “I’ll email you next week,” for example. And then do that. Many people leave networking events with pockets full of business cards, but they never use them. So follow through on the intention. Whip out those business cards and follow up. Call or email the person.
7. Stay in touch. This doesn’t mean hounding the person. But show up periodically. This could mean setting a next appointment to get together for lunch or coffee. Or it could mean inviting the person to an event you are having. Or it could be via casual email or even by inviting the person to join your mailing list so you can email him or her regularly with your marketing message. Now that you’ve met the person offline, it might be the time to take it online, by connecting via social media.
These steps all help you make your networking event count by allowing you to focus on getting to know and getting known by people. You want to turn from a casual contact to a connection. So go into the networking event with the intention of getting to know people, rather than with the expectation of inking a deal. This relieves the pressure and the unrealistic expectation of plopping into a networking event and walking out with a contract. It also paves the way to do the thing you want: get a contract. Remember, people do business with people they know and like. So help them get to know you and, hopefully, like you. Do this enough, and your writing business will reap the benefit.
Monica Carter Tagore is the author of the upcoming Connect and Conquer: Grow Your Business, Organization, and Career Through Online and Offline Relationships. Join our mailing list by clicking here to be among the first to hear when it is published. Visit ConnectBeat.com for more information on connecting to your audience through social media, story, branding, and more.