Polish up your offline networking skills

With places opening up more and more, and restrictions lifting, it’s likely you’ll be networking IN PERSON sometime soon. Do you remember what to do?

This year has been an odd one and we are all doing things differently from how we used to — and that’s likely to continue, even as in person events come back into being. It’s all about the ‘both — and’ rather than ‘back to normal.

Today we are talking about how to make the most of your networking — and specifically how you can make that work for you in the off line environment now that things have changed.

Networking is a vital marketing activity in your business. You can use your social media to build your presence and yes, to an extent build relationships, but that can be haphazard and random. Intentional networking does exactly what it says — you literally build your network and expand the numbers of people you are talking to.

Why networking is a crucial part of your marketing strategy:

  • You still need to make connections, and widen your network
  • Sales and opportunities come through building relationships
  • Relationships are made through new connections and deepening conversations with those you already know
  • Networking exposes you to others who didn’t know you
  • It’s a more intimate way of being seen that isn’t just ‘broadcasting’ in the way social media is
  • Reach decision makers
  • Learn from guest experts
  • Expand into new regions or industries/ get facilitated introductions

Networking events give you the opportunity to literally talk to new people, and/or meet regularly with those you know or are getting to know, in an organised manner that allows you to not just do 121 conversations. It’s worth paying for, and for many it’s a good option that yields results well — imagine having an army of ambassadors working on your behalf (BNI is literally built on this basis!). There are so many local, regional and national groups that mean your network is extended out and out and out should you wish.

What if networking isn’t a “necessary evil”

Networking is not a popular activity for many — it can be hit and miss, it can seem like a waste of time and it can be exhausting. Here are some reasons why it’s got a bad reputation:

  1. People have unrealistic expectations

Going somewhere with the intention of selling and converting people then and there or in the short term. That is NOT the purpose; the purpose is to build relationships. You must go/ attend with the longer term in mind. It’s where you meet people who over time come to KNOW, LIKE and TRUST you.

2. It’s overwhelming/exhausting

So many people, so little time! It can leave people drained and out of sorts. This is especially true because a lot of people don’t take networking seriously, do no or only minimal preparation so it feels like you are just bumping into people and not making real connections

3. You (or they) think it’s all about showing up on the day

it’s not, it’s all about the follow up on the connections you make — networking is the thing that STARTS the process, relationship building is the thing that results in opportunities and sales. They are very unlikely to happen in the same event!

So how do you get the most out of in person networking events?

Remember that networking really is only about building relationships. Change your mindset to accommodate that and you’ll be well on your way. We all need to remember how to be ‘social’ — not be ON social. The conversations will be different, if anything because you need to take in ‘more’ of someone because they are right there in front of you.

Actually making small talk, and recognising that we are out of practice at being with others is something to accommodate. That can even be the source of the icebreaker questions. You may well have been to some networking events online over the last year — moreso than ever, but now it’s time to dust off your ‘chat’ and remember how it is to stay present with another real energy. They may be nervous, shy or very outgoing and that all has an impact on you and the relationship or connection you are building. Start slow and small and notice how you are impacted. Let yourself talk to less people as you test the waters.

Here’s a little checklist to help make your offline networking successful

  1. Set an intention / have an end result in mind (e.g. find 5 podcasts to be on)
  2. Focus on a quality of being — e.g. generous, curious, kind, connective — that you want to bring into the networking. That will give you a way to ‘be’ with others. This works well if it’s your first one in a while or if you are a little hesitant or shy too.
  3. Prepare well — check out the delegate lists if they are available

a) Identify people you want to talk to in advance

b) Reach out to those people in advance so you feel more comfortable to

4. Be curious — have some favourite questions prepared to help you start or continue conversations. Be ready to share what’s happening for you, that’s of interest, as well as having some questions that help another person open up (they may be as nervous or tentative as you feel!)

5. Don’t sell anything, ask questions! Back to those expectations — refrain from selling, offering or sharing details of all your products (unless specifically asked or the conversation leads that way). Ask what THEY NEED — and see who you might connect them with, what resources you might be able to share.

6. Set aside to follow up — have a strategy and set aside time to connect with and follow up on any promises, connections and set up any meetings you said you would.

7. Send a thank you note to the organisers, ask to be invited again (if you liked it!)

8. Outline & rehearse your 60 second introduction or pitch — so you feel confident about speaking it out loud in a room of people. Rehearsing will take away the nerves

Most of all, be PRESENT whilst at your event — you are here, with others. Marvel at that and connect with one or two people at a time. As you talk to one person, just be with that one person, don’t look for the better prospect; instead, listen, connect, and when it’s time excuse yourself politely and find someone new.

Be aware of the needs you might have to either to meet as many people or the desire to hang out with just the one person that you’ve found that feels comfortable. That may be ok for you, but remember you are there to build connections, so aim to talk to at least three people in the room to make the event worth your while.

Most of all, it’s a brave new world and adhering to all health and safety considerations means that we are actually all in the same boat. We are all trying our best to build business and support ourselves and others with services that we’ve worked hard to bring to the world. Be sensitive to yourself and them. Who knows what might happen?! That’s the power of networking right there — the possibility of just the right connection that opens up everything, even as the world opens up too.

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