You open your computer and ding! — another invitation for a networking cocktail enters your inbox. This is the season for professional reunions and get togethers.
How do you feel?
You rub your hands together, excited at the thought of meeting lots of new potential customers?
Or frankly, you’d like to tell me that you are not comfortable attending these events. You hesitate to register even if it’s time to grow your network. As you know, being in business is much more than doing what you do well. It’s also about who you know.
Like any successful event, a fruitful business networking event also needs preparation. Keep reading for my Happy Hour tips and tricks.
1. At your service!
Instead of thinking, “How do I sell myself?” think,” How can I help this person achieve his business goals?” The purpose of a networking activity is to build mutually beneficial relationships. Adopt an attitude of service.
In this spirit of mutual aid, volunteering is a great way to get yourself connected with community builders by meeting the organizers and having a privileged contact with the guest of honour. Offer your assistance for greeting or other duties. Get involved.
Learn about the organization, the group or the company, that is hosting. Find out, look on the internet for info about members and the guest of honour. It is also acceptable to request a list of attendees from the organizer.
Make a list of those that you think you can help and that you would like to meet. Take a look at online profiles and find out about their needs, aspirations, recent achievements and what makes them tick. With this information you will be ready to converse to connect.
Even if the activity is in a bar, do not dress, as my grandmother used to say “to stay up late.” Your outfit should reflect the season, the occasion and the invitation’s dress code. Remember, you should dress for your client, even when it’s hot.
Fill up on business cards.
3. Be prepared
Contrary to popular belief, you are not invited to a networking cocktail because the host thought that you would be a little hungry or thirsty at 17h00. Cocktail networking is not about “not working,” it is about “working to connect”.
If you have not had time to eat a snack before going and are starving, start with a successful entry (see number 4). Then go to a remote area and have a few hors-d’oeuvres with familiar faces — acquaintances or colleagues. You would not want to be biting into a sushi when a “coveted customer” comes to you and reaches out to shake your hand while you are wiping soy sauce from your your chin with your right index. Yikes, sticky situation! That’s another blog post. Wash your hands before returning to networking mode.
Hold your drink in your left hand. This way, your right hand will remain dry, without external condensation from your glass, and will always be ready to shake hands or offer a business card.
Introduce yourself by positioning yourself. “Hi, I’m, your first name, always accompanied by your last name (using your first name alone makes you less memorable), your title, the name of the company that you represent, plus add a link to the activity, the host or guest of honour.”
And now for the answer that everyone asks when they get to the event. “Which side should I place my name badge on: left or right? ” Place it on your right. This facilitates reading from left to right, when shaking hands. The left side is reserved for affairs of the heart and honour; a boutonniere, a corsage, medals and your professional alliance.
4. Enter, pose and go, introduce yourself
When you enter, do not head for the bar, the veggies or the shrimp stations. Take the time to walk in. As indicated in number three, you are not there to eat and drink.
Make an entrance. First impressions do count. Think about your posture. Your body language should be confident, happy and approachable. Take a few steps and one more smaller step to the right. Stop!
Madonna says “Vogue,” Julie says “Pose.” Take a moment. Breathe in and scout the horizon. You are looking for familiar faces and the people on your list, from number one.
You also want to be seen. It is well-known that everyone watches the door to see who is coming in. It’s not about being arrogant, but simply about being counted in as “present”.
During this short second or two, you are also looking for a group of three to five people that are relaxed and open to a newcomer.
Walk up to them. “Hi, may I join you?” Introduce yourself as indicated above in number three.
You can also make a “solo” entrance. Walk in, in search of inviting eye contact from a group member, or from another person who is just like you, solo, looking for someone to connect with.
Another option is to wait by the door for the arrival of the next person. Once someone walks in, introduce yourself.
Any lineup is also a great way to meet a minimum of two people; one in front and one behind you. The beauty of this tip is that when you arrive to the front of the line, if you did not have a match, you have the perfect opportunity to move on politely and professionally. Shake hands, “It was lovely meeting you. Have fun. “, and off you go.
5. Small talk is a necessary preliminary
The art of conversation is not only based on what you say, actually it is more about how you listen. I recommend listening 60 per cent of the time and speaking the other 40 per cent. Ask open-ended questions. Learn from the other; his daily routine, his ideal client and his needs. “What do you do when you’re not working?” Will brighten anyone’s face and you will be privy to favourite pastimes.
For the traditional opener, “How are you?” prepare a positive phrase that will make you shine. Be your own agent. “I’m very well thank you. I just [insert recent success or a new project].”
6. Exit gracefully
The most asked question during my Networking Cocktail Etiquette workshop is “How do I leave a going nowhere conversation?” Wait for a pause and politely make your exit. “It was good to meet you. Good luck with your project. Goodbye.” Shake hands and move on next/suivant.
There is no rule that says that you have to stay with the one who chose to monopolize you. During a typically networking event, you usually have 10 to 15 minute chats with four to six new people.
Never say that you have to go freshen up. “Why?” you ask. Most people will then say, “Me too,” and will follow you all the way to the toilet. They will even wait for you to walk back out to continue your discussion. You are stuck!
Passing the person on the someone else is another successful transition tip. Introduce him to another business acquaintance. “Do you know, Ms. Soandso? I think you have a lot in common. I see her at the back of the room. Let’s go see her so I may introduce the two of you.” Be careful, make sure that the other will appreciate meeting this new person.
If you are really getting along and think that you can do business together, suggest meeting at a later date and offer your business card. Never ask for the other’s card, especially someone of higher rank. By offering, you give the other the choice to reciprocate or not.
7. Thank to be remembered
When leaving, be sure to thank the event’s officials. If you came with colleagues or friends, inform them of your departure. The same goes for your boss.
For more formal or particularly successful activities, a handwritten and mail delivered thank you note, will always make you stand out and is really appreciated by all.
8. Follow up
Back in your office, sort out the cards that you received and send personalized emails to: provide assistance, do a virtual introduction with one of your contacts, give an answer, connect on LinkedIn, provide a link to a relevant article, invite him to another activity or for a business lunch.
Fulfill all the promises that you made.
At your service!