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7 tips to not feel like a klutz at the next networking event

It’s happened to all of us. We register for the networking event so that we can meet new people and come back to the office with new leads. But what do we end up doing? Sticking around with the people we already know and with whom we’re comfortable. Sometimes we get lucky and we’re able to sit at that prospect’s table and we’re able to collect their business card so we can report back on our success at tomorrow’s sales meeting.

But there is a better way.

Catching up with friends is always fun but it is not the purpose of the event and it really isn’t why your organization is paying for your breakfast/lunch/dinner/drink. Meeting new people is easy if you remember this:

You are not there to sell. You are there to start a trusting business relationship (and the last way to do that is to try to sell, feature puke, or collect cards so that you can “follow-up”). All you really want to do is connect in some small way so that when you re-connect they are happy to hear from you, happy to engage with you and happy to communicate their needs.

Think about when you meet someone whether it’s F2F or even over the phone or through things like this. If the person seems only interested in promoting him or herself, how do you feel? Exactly! That’s how they feel when you do it, too.

Stop doing it! Here are 7 tips:

1. Stop trying to qualify people and just relax.
2. Focus on helping them feel at ease talking with you.
3. Look for people standing by themselves (always easier than breaking into a group).
4. Don’t not talk business; you’re not there for tea and crumpets.
5. Prime the pump. Email prospects before the event and explain how you’d like to meet them (but not to talk about how perfect your solution is for them, just to put a face with a name, or any other authentic reason (other than to sell!).
6. Do your research. It’s quite engaging when you can start a conversation with, “Congratulations, I just read that your company has…” Even if it isn’t that happy, if you can say, “I just read that your organization is…” is enough to begin a trusting relationship.
6. Get over yourself. I really don’t know anyone who likes superficial small talk so look for a common bond that you can be enthusiastic about and be prepared to make a new friend.
7. Be prepared with interested questions that stimulate conversation.

•Better than, “Is this your first time here? Or, I see you’re new here, try: So, how did you hear about this group? (You may even discover that you have a mutual connection!)
•After what do you do, try: How did you get into doing that?
• When you already know them (but have forgotten that it’s a business connection you’d like), after, “It’s so good to see you,” try: What’s your latest business project? Or, What’s new and exciting at your office? Or: I read that your company has been doing great things on the X initiative… can you tell me more?

One last tip: Social media can help you avoid any feelings of ill ease. Start retweeting the meeting hashtag # and others will retweet you. Direct message them and ask to meet at the event. Instant common bond and possible new friend and client.

Your ideas to not feel like a klutz when networking? Please tell us.

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