How to Effectively Network at Business Meetings
Businesswomen all know the drill. Chamber of Commerce breakfasts, industry association mixers, monthly sponsored speaker series luncheons.
We all attend business meetings looking to make connections to help in our business efforts and better expose us to ideas and innovations in our market.
Mastering a few basic approaches and techniques such as starting with a plan before the meeting and being prepared to engage can help you be more effective in networking.
Jenn Snyder is executive director of a Charlotte, North Carolina-based B2B networking organization called the Hood Hargett Breakfast Club. The member organization club works with successful executives to increase their business acumen and performance through attending quality programs while developing deeper relationships with their peers, clients and prospects.
“People do business with people they trust and like,” said Snyder. “In order to build relationships, people first need to get to know each other in a natural and genuine way. At networking events, people are looking for connections and to learn about others beyond where they work and what they do. People want to be friendly and not experience someone pushing product or services at them from the moment they meet. Relationships need time to evolve.”
This means leaving your business cards in your pocket and keeping the canned elevator speech describing your businesses services, products, and benefits for another day — or in abeyance until specifically asked.
It isn’t difficult to find safe areas to break the ice with new acquaintances at business gatherings. Discussing the mutual interest in the speaker, the event host, or inquiring about what brought the other person to this particular event are all solid opening advances to learn more about your new friend.
While the “What-do-you-do?” query is ubiquitous at such meetings, look to stand out and be more likely remembered with the “Where-might-you-take-your-next-vacation?” question. This is quite popular with Europeans and likely to provide a more natural and genuine conversation.
“Being present and in the moment sends the signal to those you’re meeting with they are important and worth your time,” said Snyder. “The most successful networkers I’ve seen over the years are the people who when you are talking with them make you feel you’re the only person in the room. They’re not looking past you to the next person they want to speak with. They’re looking to first establish a relationship. They know business connections naturally evolve from friendships.”
Snyder said doing research before attending business meetings to review member rosters and participant lists can be helpful in prioritizing people with whom the networker is interested in connecting.
“People may want to enlist a member or event organizer in introducing them to people they’d like to meet,” said Snyder. “Pairing up with a frequent event attendee can also help make introductions and break the ice. But even if you’re alone, don’t be a wallflower. You’re there to mix, step out of your comfort zone, and soon it will come naturally.”
Savvy follow up
Savvy networkers use effective follow-up techniques to build upon initial introductions. Personal handwritten notes referencing something discussed are rare in today’s email world — a seldom-used tool to help make you stand out.
One tool to help with this is jotting a note on the back of a person’s business card or in a daily journal regarding your meeting and a memory jogger such as “vacations in Minnesota,” and you’re sure to be remembered.
At the end of the meeting, it’s really about quality vs. quantity.
“Spend less time with people you know well and more time with people you know less well,” counseled Snyder. “Be purposeful and goal oriented. These events are great opportunities to build new connections.”