If you’ve ever attended a networking event only to be left disappointed by the lack of contacts made, look no further than your actions to learn how to improve your results.
Did you plan a strategy for your attendance at the event? Had you scoped out a few key attendees you planned to meet? Were you truly listening to conversation partners to hear what they need?
Why we network
If networking events can be so hit ‘n’ miss, why bother? For many, successful networking is a stepping stone to career growth: Some attendees are job seekers; others hope to make a sale or two for their products or services; and some simply crave connection with their peers. Objectives for networking are many. All wish to “get something” out of the experience. But how can we guarantee it will happen every time?
The networking disconnect
Most attending a networking event are hoping to sell something. Whether that’s your own skills as a job seeker, hoping to make a connection to garner an interview, or someone prospecting for leads and referrals, most would not attend and give up family time to network without a benefit of attending. Guess what? While you may be there to “sell” something, no one attends to buy things. This is the “networking disconnect.”
Since no one is consciously there to buy what you’re selling, having a networking strategy becomes crucial to success. Here are some basic networking tips to help you ensure you leave events feeling your time was well spent:
What’s your networking strategy?
In order to feel your time was well spent at a networking event, it’s essential to set goals and objectives so that you have something to measure against to determine its value. Is your goal to meet X, Y and Z guests and have brief conversations with each to make introductions? Or, is your objective to connect with a colleague (or two or three) who can make additional introductions for you?
Whatever your intent, it’s important to be clear so you’ll know afterwards how successful you were. It can even be as simple as attending to check out the caterer’s food! Here are ways to develop your strategy:
- WHO will be attending? Check attendance lists (or ask the hosts) in advance to find out if some key connections you’d like to make will be there. Put their names on note cards as a reminder to carry with you.
- DRESS appropriate to your profession and the event. We make snap judgments about people based upon appearance before folks even open their mouths to speak. Wine country attire can vary dramatically depending upon the profession. We don’t expect vineyard managers to arrive in suits, nor do we expect to see winery GMs sporting overalls. Conversely, if the event is held outdoors, dress suggestions are often supplied by hosts. Take heed!
- BUSINESS CARDS are essential to networking success. But I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard guests indicate they forgot to bring them or ran out. What impression does this make? Is the forgetful person someone you want to do business with? Small details like this affect your credibility. Be prepared.
- NAVIGATE the networking room like a pro! Look for open pairs or groups of people you can join to begin new conversations. Pairs or groups of people in tight, closed huddles aren’t yet ready to accept outsiders in their current conversations. Take the time to scope out how you wish to work the room: Will it be most efficient to make a clockwise circle from the refreshments table? Or is it best to begin the other direction working towards the food? How much time do you have to be the most productive? Act accordingly.
- FRIENDS already know you and your services. Make a practice to be brief in saying, “Hello, I’ll see you after a make a few new acquaintances.” After you’ve achieved your networking objectives to meet X contacts then relax with your friends.
Use great conversation starters
For some, leaping into a new conversation with a stranger can be as intimidating as getting a root canal at the dentist. Make it easier on yourself by having a few tried and true conversation starters on hand to break the ice:
- How did you get into X line of work?
- What made you so passionate about X?
- How did you get started in this business?
- What do you think separates you from your competition?
- What’s the funniest thing that ever happened to you at a networking event?
While the last one doesn’t exactly tell you much about your conversation partner’s business, it’s an excellent way to move away from canned answers. In response, most folks will “let down their hair” and any barriers they may have to going off-script.
Need more conversation starters? You can find many ideas on the backs of our WINE WOMEN business cards marked “Conversation Starters.” In fact, other card backs have statistics on women in the wine industry, quotes from famous women in the business, and other (often depressing) statistics about the gender pay gap. Find these cards usually at the checkin table or in purple trays around the room.
How to start great relationships
“Hi, my name is Daisy! I sell wine widgets that absolutely everyone needs? Would you like to buy 3 cases of them now?”
We’ve all been accosted at some time or another at a networking event by someone determined to make a sale (also known as “premature solicitation.”) These poor souls are completely oblivious to the inappropriateness of their actions.
Even when using one of the conversation starters above, where each conversation partner takes turns asking about the other’s business offerings and needs, this is usually only the first step in building a mutually beneficial relationship. But it is the act of inquiring with sincere interest and listening with care that leads to a fruitful relationship.
Most are familiar with the sales adage, “Know, Like, Trust,” which reminds us that in order to make a good sale the customer must first get to know you before they can decide if they like you. And only then if you pass those tests will a customer decide if she’s going to trust you enough to buy from you.
Daisy hasn’t even gotten to first base!
Therefore, for best success remember the other great adage: People don’t know how much you know until they know how much you care!
A great way to launch that mutually beneficial relationship: Ask your conversation partner, “How can I help?” This simple action (accompanied by active listening) will propel you through the Know Like Trust steps quickly so that you can build solid business relationships.
These tips were presented at “A Wine Women Welcome” on August 3rd at Gloria Ferrer in Sonoma. At each major event we strive to provide solid takeaway lessons valuable to your career development. Do you have suggestions on what to add to these tips? Let us know! Comment on our Facebook page. To view more photos from the event, visit our photo gallery. Photo at top courtesy member Rick Bolen Photography.