By Kelly Ehlers, President of Ideas That Evoke.
As entrepreneurs, we often find ourselves in situations with other ambitious self-starters and decision makers. But making the most of these opportunities isn't as easy as it seems. Even after introductions, it takes intentional work to maintain these relationships. Take note of these tips to ace your next networking event and stay connected long after that first handshake.
Take It Offline
Meeting online is the new normal in networking connections and business partnerships. For just that reason, going analog really stands out. Not sure how to transition from digital to real life? Showing gratitude is an easy entry point. For example, try sending a thank you card instead of an email or surprise and delight someone by mailing a sweet treat. That personal touch makes a difference whether you're celebrating a client's birthday or a successful campaign with a new partner. A physical object will also keep you on their mind much longer than it takes to skim an email and click "delete."
Be Ready to Be Remembered
Show up early. You're more likely to be approached at the start of an event -- and those connections can set the tone for your networking experience. This also puts you in a position to be the one who introduces people, further strengthening your network. While preparing your conversational icebreakers, take it one step further with a tasteful yet unique accessory. An interesting tie or a playful pair of shoes can act as a built-in conversation starter.
Introduce Yourself With Intention
An effective introduction can make or break a connection, and a firm handshake is just the start. When it comes to conversations, listen first, then speak. If you're bad with names, try repeating theirs twice in your first conversation. Make sure you walk away from every introduction with the other person's name and a reason to keep in touch. If someone gives you their business card, be sure to follow up. Don't just wait until you need something. Invite them to a future event to keep the connection going. We'll likely remember how someone made us feel more than we remember the details of their latest project.
Let Your EQ Guide You
You've likely heard of emotional intelligence. It's the capacity to smartly managing your emotions while deftly navigating those of others and it's vital in networking settings. This skill is what helps us read the room and adjust our behavior to put others at ease. It may sound passive, but it's a very powerful ability. A few rules of thumb: Stay positive in your tone and body language. Prepare go-to topics (travel plans, pets) to offset awkward lulls in conversation. Trust your gut and politely excuse yourself if a situation feels off.
Push yourself past discomfort. You didn't get dressed up and sit in traffic for this event just to stand around eating hors d'oeuvres. Start by setting a goal to keep you motivated, like introducing yourself to three strangers or reconnecting with an acquaintance whose career is a few steps ahead of yours. You may not walk away with a new mentor, but you may end up meeting the person who introduces you to your future mentor. It always feels like a bold move, but being intentionally proactive has opened up my circle of influence.
By preparing, putting in a little work and adding your own personal touch you can develop and maintain mutually beneficial relationships at any stage in your career.
Kelly Ehlers is the President of Ideas That Evoke, a social media and PR agency, the 24th Fastest Growing Agency in 2016, Inc Magazine.