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The first thing to do is get into the right mindset. Effective networking is about farming versus hunting. Farmers plant seeds. They are patient and make sure their seeds get the proper caring and feeding and then they can reap the harvest. Hunters go a mile wide and an inch deep, they value quantity and shoot at anything that moves. Most people do not go to networking events to buy something, so why go there with the intent to immediately sell?
When you are going to a networking event, do your homework first. Find out who else might be there you want to connect with. Learn what you can about them on social sites such as LinkedIn and also go to their website. When you find them at the event, ask them questions about themselves, their business and their challenges. Take the time to learn about them, show them you care and you want to build a relationship. There will be time for talking about how you can support them—but only really after you know what they need. When you get to share, tell them a story of how you have solved business problems for clients similar to their problems, then it shows you listened and you have some experience.
Ivan Misner, Ph.D, founder of BNI, shares the need to first have visibility. People have to know who you are and what you do. He warns against premature solicitation and asking for a sale before you have visibility and offers some tips on effectively navigating networking events. He uses a 12 x 12 x 12 rule. From 12 feet away—make sure you are dressed the part. At 12 inches away, perception is reality. Don’t complain to someone you just met because they will think you are a negative person. And think about the 12 words you’re going to say. After you listen to them, be able to concisely share your value proposition.
I facilitate a leadership program focused on building influence and connecting with others leveraging John Maxwell’s books—“Everybody Communicates, Few Connect” and “Becoming a Person of Influence”. In it, we focus on how to really listen to others to better connect. It’s not about us, it’s about them. I love this quote by Norman Vincent Peale:
“Humble people don't think less of themselves ... they just think of themselves less. When you really listen to others, you make a connection.”
John Maxwell says “Leaders touch a heart before they ask for a hand” and it is the same here for connecting.
10 questions to ask at networking events
Bob Burg, author of Endless Referrals and other great books, is a great connector and says, “All things being equal, people will do business with, and refer business to, those people they know, like and trust.” He shares 10 Feel-Good Questions to ask at networking events:
1. How did you get your start in the widget business?
2. What do you enjoy most about your profession?
3. What separates you and your company from the competition?
4. What advice would you give someone just starting in the widget business?
5. What one thing would you do with your business if you knew you could not fail?
6. What significant changes have you seen take place in your profession through the years?
7. What do you see as the coming trends in the widget business?
8. What ways have you found to be the most effective for promoting your business?
9. What ways have you found to be the most effective for promotion your business?
10. What one sentence would you like people to use in describing the way you do business?
The One “key” questions that will set you apart from everyone else: “How can I know if someone I’m speaking with is a good prospect for you?
Important: Please keep in mind you won’t have time to ask more than two or three of these questions in any one conversation. These are questions people enjoy answering and they are simply meant to make them feel good and establish initial rapport.
So, it’s about farming and cultivating relationships and building a network of people that really know, like and trust you—this is your referral network. Be selective, don’t chase everyone, and focus on building a network of people that can leverage your services or product. Focus first on adding value and the rest will come! And most of all: Happy networking!
Jill Windelspecht is president of Talent Specialists Consulting. Contact her via email at Jillwindel@talentspecialists.net.