As businesspeople, we know we need to "network" as a way to build relationships that will help us in business and life. But attending a networking event like a conference can pose challenges, especially when it comes to making the most of your time there.
The worst thing you can do at such an event is approach it like a game where the winner is the one who hands out or collects the most business cards. Put that on your "Not-do" list. Nobody likes the person that deals business cards like playing cards and they certainly won't have any incentive to help you build your business down the road.
Rather, the best networkers have a goal of walking away from any networking event with between two to five solid contacts that they formed over a meaningful conversation of at least five minutes. It's about the quality of the contacts rather than the quantity.
So what are the secrets every great networker uses to make those quality connections?
1. Choose Your Event Wisely
Not all networking events are created equally - at least as far as you're concerned. The best networkers assess events before deciding to attend them based on the kinds of people they expect to be there. Again, you're looking to connect with people you can help and who then can in turn help you. If you don't think there will be many people who fall into that definition, it's probably not worth attending. If you can, get an attendee list and have a few targets in mind - people you'd love to meet.
2. Pick Your Spot
One of the overlooked aspects that every great networker understands is to find a place at an event where you can maximize your chances of meeting the people you most want to connect with. Your first option is to stand by the food. Your next is the bar. And finally, you can take up position near the door. Since everyone in the room is likely to come by one of these three places, any one of these three options will allow you to strike up potential conversations with people you want to connect with. Once the crowd has rotated past and haven't seen your targets, go looking for them.
3. Help Someone Out
When you get your chance to strike up a conversation, don't make it about yourself. Rather, seek to understand first and try and find a way to help that person in some way. Maybe it's by offering to make a referral, or by giving them a recommendation for an insightful book or a website. It could even be offering them some advice. Regardless, the best networkers understand that the path to good relationships are paved with generosity. If you haven't found a way to help, one of my favorite questions is, "how can I specifically help you?" to force the issue.
4. Let Them Know What You Need
After you have taken the opportunity to understand and help your new connection, you're free to talk about what you do and how someone might be able to help you. Be as clear as you can about your business is about and what kinds of people you're interested in connecting and working with. Who is your ideal client and why. The best networkers don't ask for any specific help, as that obligation has already been established. Rather, it becomes clear how your new contact can help if they are able to and since you started first, they will try if they can.
5. Offer To Exchange Cards
It's only after they have had a mutually productive conversation with someone that the best networkers then ask if the other person would be interested in exchanging business cards. I usually ask, "would it be okay if we share cards?" If they say, yes, great - you can present them your card. But it's important to ask first and not just awkwardly stuff your card in their hand.
If you can put these five networking secrets in place, you will have maximized your chances of not only making great new contacts, you may find that your new acquaintances can pay forward your conversation after the event is over. If the person you connected with meets someone along the lines of who you described as your ideal client, they will remember that and then be able to hand over your card to them - creating an instant lead for you in the process.
If you can repeat these networking secrets on a regular basis, you will be amazed at all the new opportunities that will come flooding your way.