Navigating Networking Events
As you are growing your business, you will most likely encounter networking events at some point. Networking events are amazing tools for making new connections, strengthening existing relationships, and staying top of mind in your community. For introverts, though, they can be intimidating at times, especially if you are new to networking.
First, let’s discuss networking groups. Common types of groups are: chambers of commerce, referral groups, women’s groups, young professional groups, or industry-specific networking groups, such as your local Realtor association group. Now, there are all sorts of groups, each with its own specific mission; however, the main purpose is to bring business people together. Simple as that. The process of finding the groups that work best for you begins with research and ends with experimentation. There is no way around it. To find your groups, you’ll be able to eliminate some based on factors such as timing, location, or cost, but you will also have to visit many groups to finish narrowing it down and choose the best options for you. In my experience, this can be a somewhat arduous process, yet it’s very much worth the effort. And as always, trust your gut. The individuals and the leadership in the group are even more important than any other aspect of the group.
On to the events themselves. The most common types of networking events are: breakfast meetings, lunch meetings, and after hours events. Breakfast and lunch meetings are typically more structured. There may be a formal round of introductions, and it’s smart to have a quick elevator pitch ready to go (stay tuned for a separate post about that). After hours events are usually more relaxed and casual. People are winding down from work, having a drink, and loosening up. Pro tip: bring cash, as it’s often a cash only bar, especially if the event is in a hotel and not a restaurant.
If you haven’t ever been to a particular group’s events before, here is what to expect and how to handle it. Many of the people there will likely know each other already, so there’s the potential for the group to seem “clicky.” While some may be, most groups simply have a core group of regular attendees who have become friends over the years. Don’t let that scare you away. If you know someone else who will be attending, plan to meet them there at a certain time. You two can approach others together, which always makes it easier. If you’re braving the event on your own, I can totally relate and have some tips to help:
1. Go with a specific time frame in mind. “I’ll stay for one hour, then leave” for example. When the time is up, head on home without any guilt.
2. To approach a stranger, scan the room for someone or something to compliment. I always look for a female with a cute bag or shoes. Starting a conversation with a compliment creates instant rapport. (Guys, just be careful to do this in a tactful, not creepy, way).
3. Bring your own business cards, but always ask for the other person’s card first. Do not hand out your card unless specifically asked for it.
4. Focus on connecting with only a few people, rather than trying to meet everyone in the room.
5. Ask those few people if they would like to have coffee or lunch and tell them you’ll follow up tomorrow with them to set a date.
6. Follow up tomorrow and set a date!
7. Relax and have fun.
Following up is just as important as attending the event, as well. Be sure to follow up right away and create a plan to stay in touch.
Networking events are fantastic ways to meet people. As introverts, it’s important for us to embrace them our own way, meaning monitoring our energy during and after the event, allowing ourselves the permission to leave when we need to leave, and not planning too many events too close together. There was a time in my career when I was out at an event 4-5 nights a week. It was exhausting, and it wasn’t sustainable. Find your balance and stick to it. If it’s twice a month, great! If it’s twice a week, great! That’s my message and I’m sticking to it.
***Bonus: For a free list of conversation starters, email me at Ashley@MoveOverExtroverts.com