Archive for June, 2016

Tips for Successful Networking Event Conversations

Posted on: June 29th, 2016 by Jessica Diehl No Comments

As I mentioned in a previous post, I hate defaulting to the question of, “So, what do you do?” at networking events.  My desire to improve my networking lead to some fascinating research, particularly on the topic of how to handle the actual conversations at the networking event itself.

The preparation should begin well before you arrive at the networking event, with research about the organization hosting it.  Part of that preparation should also include identifying your clear business goal.  While it’s true that proper networking is about building relationships, not simply getting a new client, the ultimate goal is building mutually beneficial relationships.  Knowing your business goal will not only keep you focused, it can help you get out of a conversation if/when that is necessary.  Let’s be honest, not everyone at a networking event is going to be a good fit for relationship with you and your company.

First, let’s go over the basics of conversation.  You may think these points are obvious, but you would be surprised how rare they are in practice.

Look people in the eye, and offer a firm handshake and a smile when meeting someone.

Again, that may sound like common sense, but common sense is not always common practice.  The art of a good handshake is disappearing.  A firm handshake indicates confidence and energy, which shows you are an engaging person.

I could also go off on a rant tangent about how the growing use of social media and texting is making us worse communicators. Instead I will just make the point that the less time you spend interacting face-to-face, the more challenging it can be to look someone in the eye.  So it may take a greater effort, but it is still the respectful thing to do.

Ask interesting open-ended questions (ones that require more than a one-word answer).

Now we’ve reached my favorite part of the blog.  Before listing some question suggestions, I want to give a warning.  Don’t be the FBI.  Asking rapid fire personal questions like “are you married,” “do you have children,” “what do you do in your spare time,” can be off-putting and lead to a dead end. Most of those questions have one-word answers.

I gave a couple ‘starter’ questions in the last post, including:

  • How did you become involved with this organization?
  • What specifically are you hoping to get out of this event today?
  • What business problems does your company solve?
  • What significant changes have you seen in your profession through the years?

These are great initial questions to ask, and, as a bonus, most of them will actually get you the answer of ‘what do you do?’

Along with ‘starter’ questions, you will want to have questions in mind that will help you learn more about the other person and their business. This will help you find out if you can actually be of help to them, along with simply helping you get to know another person better. Some examples of these questions include:

  • What is the strangest or funniest incident you’ve experienced in your business?
  • What are you spending most of your time on now?
  • What is one thing you would do if you knew that you would not fail?
  • What kinds of books do you read and which ones have had the greatest impact on you?
  • What is the most unique aspect of your job?
  • What are some of the biggest challenges you are facing?
  • What is going well for you this year?
  • Who can I help you meet?

Finally, if the point of networking is to form mutually beneficial relationships, you want to have some questions ready to help you find the connections you want.

  • I had hoped to meet someone who is interested in _____. Do you know anyone like that?
  • Can you recommend anyone who needs a ____?
  • What would make someone the ideal employee/client/prospect for your company?
  • Can you suggest someone with whom I could speak about _____?

When it comes to talking up your business, I heard an interesting suggestion recently.  Instead of launching into your ‘pitch’ at the networking event, focus more on getting to know the other person, and plan a time to grab coffee.  This helps foster relationship, and gives you a more relaxed, focused setting to discuss business.

Shake hands and say goodbye when the conversation is over.

Similar to the way you want start strong, you want to have a clear and cordial end to your interaction.  It helps to be prepared with exit lines. Thank the person, and recap the conversation, then explain truthfully why you need to leave.  Having a clear business goal in mind can help with that.  For example, “I’ve been having problems with my cleaning service, do you know anyone here who can help?” This will allow you to move on graciously.

Improving your networking skills takes time, and most of all practice.  So, the best piece of advice I’ve heard is this: Put down the phone and practice everywhere! Look around, you are with strangers all day.  At the grocery store, instead of reading the latest Entertainment headlines, strike up a conversation with those in line with you, and practice, practice, practice!!

I hope these blog posts have helped you improve your conversations at your next networking event.

 

by: Jessica Diehl, Marketing Director

Professional Networking Tips for Attending Networking Events

Posted on: June 16th, 2016 by Jessica Diehl No Comments

Networking events are a vital part of professional and personal success.  Anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to sell you something (Princess Bride reference).  I understand the value of building an ever-growing professional network, and I thoroughly enjoy meeting new people, and finding ways to help them.  But there is still a large part of me that dreads networking events.  I am sure I am not in this boat alone. So instead of complaining, I got proactive and started researching networking tips to help improve my networking skills.

It started with an event put on by the Young Professionals of the Union County Chamber of Commerce.  After an initial lunch in January where most people entered, sat at their table, and only spoke to people they knew, the Chamber invited Masoy Henry to speak on the keys to successful networking.  His networking tips were incredibly practical and valuable.  I will be combining points from his talk with information gleaned from my own research in this two part post.

In part 1, I will focus on understanding what networking is, and isn’t as well as how to prepare for a networking event.  Part 2 will focus on increasing interaction at events by asking engaging, open-ended questions as well as closing out and following up after attending a networking event.

We need to begin with a right understanding of what networking is, and isn’t.

I was at that January Chamber of Commerce lunch, and realized one of the reasons no one was actually networking has to do with the millennial generation’s value of authenticity.  Because we value authenticity and genuineness so much, we can feel like networking is gimmicky, or way to slimy and unnatural.

But that is not the case at all.  In his talk, Masoy Henry noted that networking is simply “the art of building a supportive group of acquaintances for the purpose of helping meet present or future needs.”  He added that networking can equal enlightenment, education and empowerment as you learn more about others.  Notice that nowhere in his definition did he say to meet “your” present or future needs alone.  Proper networking is about building relationships.

Instead of thinking “I have to have my elevator pitch ready and figure out how to shoehorn it into the conversation,” I now think “what can I learn about this other person that will help me better identify how I can meet a present of future need of theirs?”  Henry also noted that when you are only looking out for yourself, people can tell. You come off as snobby and offensive.  He made certain to point out that a contact is only truly a contact when they know they can contact you.

I have to throw in a personal side note here.  The members of the Union County Chamber of Commerce have. This. Down.  Over and over I hear, and can attest to the fact that it is one of the most relational Chambers around, with benefits for members that go far beyond acquiring new clients or referrals.

Remember, at a networking or business event, everyone there has an agenda. That’s not a bad thing, as long as part of your agenda includes truly engaging with others as people, and not prospects.

Preparing for networking events

Ok, so now you have gotten over the trepidation about networking events, and you want to make the most of the next one you attend.  Most of us think that means making sure our business cards are ready, and that we have a good elevator pitch.  While those are important steps, I learned several new strategies to improve my success at both professional networking events, and personal gatherings as well.

Now, when I prepare for networking events, the first thing I do is research the group putting on the event.  That comes in handy for two reasons.

  1. If I don’t know anyone at the event, I can reach out to the organizer. Any good host of an event should be willing to introduce you to at least 1 person, if you reach out to them and ask.  They are in charge of the event, after all, and want it to be successful.
  2. I can begin formulating conversation topics based on the organization sponsoring the event.

Preparing for any networking event MUST include coming up with at least 3 things to talk about with others.  These can be about the event itself, current events in general, or general get-to-know-you questions.  Walking in with topics that are beyond “So, what do you do?” will make you stand out from the crowd. It will also give you a reason to approach someone beyond just to get their contact card.

It is also beneficial to have 3-4 questions ready to ask others.  I’ll go more in-depth into formulating questions in the next post.  For now, here are a few to get you started:

  • How did you become involved with this organization?
  • What specifically are you hoping to get out of this event today?
  • What business problems does your company solve?
  • What significant changes have you seen in your profession through the years?

I loathe starting conversations with “What do you do?” However, I seem to fall back on that more often than not.  That’s why I am excited to share my next post with you, as I learned some great networking questions.

by: Jessica Diehl, Marketing Director

The Network Team