It’s odd to think that all the skills you used when you were in middle school and high school and maybe college to navigate the lunchroom and parties hold true in business. Yet, they do.
Imagine you are a new student, walking alone into a middle school lunchroom. You might wonder where to sit, who will ask you to join your table, and whether you will be able to keep up on the conversation.
Or maybe these thoughts never crossed your mind. Maybe you always just walked into a lunchroom and owned it, or sat off to the side and watched what was going on. At parties, were you the last to know about it, or were you the one who was welcoming others in and setting up all the activities to make it amazing?
After one of our first networking events together, my client, Harvey Mackay, No. 1 New York Times bestselling author of Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive, told me, “You’re a pretty good carpet sweeper.”
I looked at him, confused, and wondered whether it was a compliment or an insult.
“What does that mean?” I asked.
Harvey said, “You did an amazing job of meeting everyone in the room and getting their business card and a few facts about them.”
I was still confused. That was my job! Plus, I only had two hours to meet all 50 people, or at least 80 percent of them.
Here are five tips to help you the next time you face your networking fears:
1. Know why you are in a room or at an event
What do you want to accomplish? If you’re not sure, don’t go. It’s hard to be purposeful and prepared with what you will say about your business if you don’t have clear goals for what you want to get out of the event, or if you don’t know how you can help other people advance their goals.
Bring your business cards and your best smile. But keep your hands free so you don’t look like a fumbler as you take the other person’s card.
2. Arrive early
The beauty of many of the online event lists is you can see who is going to the event before you arrive. And many industry events send out attendance sheets ahead of time so you can make notes of what you can do for the other person or how they might be a helpful relationship to nurture. You want to know who is in the room and be able to speak intelligently to them about their business.
But if you weren’t able to see the attendance list ahead of time, arriving early lets you review the name tags and see who you would like to meet.
3. Go with another person
Yes, it’s back to the high school lunchroom. It’s easier to get the most out of an event if you go with someone who can introduce you to other people.
And it doesn’t hurt if you can be the one to introduce them. I recently guided a friend around an event and connected him to six people that will help advance his business relationships. It was a great feeling to know that he made relationships and it made me appear to be well connected, confident and capable of speaking about his business. We walked out of the event together and were able to recap how the event had gone and how productive it had been for both of us.
4. Survey the room and mingle
People always clump together. I like to start at an event with the group of people near the front of the room or the bar, as they are often the lively ones. I introduce myself without being rude. I do it by being curious about what they are talking about, and speak up when an opening presents itself.
People want to get to know you, but don’t be the one who talks incessantly. If you’re not sure how to engage in conversation, consider the book How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. A Toastmasters group might help you to practice your speaking. Be able to talk to people on the outside of the room or that are in a small group. Welcome others into your circle and always be positive. People will remember you if you are pleasant, polished and not too upbeat.
5. Know what you are going to say
This sounds easier than it is, but it’s hard to be able to speak intelligently at an event in a loud room when the pressure to connect is on. So practice. Be clear on why you want to meet someone when they say they are a project manager or an executive or prospect. Preparing ahead of time makes you more confident to do the job that you are meant to do: meeting new people and expanding your network.
If your goal is to get more done, you need at least 25 people in your network to make this possible. Whether you start from the inside of the room and work out, or from side to side, see if you can sweep across a room of between 25 and 50 people and meet at least 80 percent of them. Be sure to follow up with them if the conversation gets that far.
Sweeping a room can be tough, but it is part of doing business. Just remember that the rewards outweigh the work it takes to make these contacts. Meeting people can be one of the most exciting and rewarding parts of an event.