1. Research gets you awesome introductions
Because cool events with a purpose don’t happen often, take advantage of them to the most of your ability.
Before the networking event, find out whose going to be there. Sometimes events will have a guest list. This is true from eventbrite.com and meetup.com. You can research the guests on linked in and by doing Google searches.
Make a table of notes in a document on everyone you want to meet.
- Why you want to meet them
- What you can talk to them about for a conversation
- And pictures of them from their linked in/facebook (so you can easily recognize them when you're at the event)
I put a document like this on my blackberry before I go out to events. I study it before I get there and then during the event I'm circling around the area like a hawk looking for prey.
Let’s say you’re researching a guest list and you find out that a guy named Zack on the guest list can help your Company with business development advice.
The course of action you want to take is to meet and talk with Zack, but before you do it’s important to have something to talk to Zack about. The best way to do that is to see if Zack has a blog. If he does, then see what he posted last and read up on it. If Zack doesn’t have a blog, don’t worry, he probably has something else you can check out (twitter, facebook, youtube, website, etc).
Then when you meet Zack, tell him that you checked out his blog and ask him a few open ended questions to get him to start talking about what he wrote. The more you get Zack to talk, the more trust you build with him, because it shows you listen. The less you talk, the better. After you get Zack to talk his heart out, compliment Zack on his business development ability and ask how he got so good at it. After Zack talks about it for awhile, ask the questions you came to the event for.
2. Can’t find the person you’re looking for at the Networking Event? Ask for help.
Let’s say you’re at a networking event and you can’t find the person you want to talk to. No big deal – just ask the host to help you find the person. If you can’t find the host then ask someone who looks like they know what’s going on and ask where the host is. If that doesn’t work then ask random people to help you find the person. Sure it’s annoying, but you came all this way to the event and prepared for it, so don’t give up.
3. How to get into the conversation
Usually the person you want to talk to has a crowd of people surrounding them. It’s hard, but I’ve managed to push myself into conversations. You have to be a little aggressive, laid back and patient at the same time.
What I like to do is stand 10 feet away from the group, eavesdrop and quickly Google the conversation’s topic on my Blackberry, read up on some facts, then walk up to the group and force my way into the conversation abruptly and contribute to it with what I Googled. It’ll be a shock to the group, but only for a moment. Then when I get a chance, I segregate the group so that I'm talking to my target.
4. How to get out of a conversation
Sometimes you’ll find yourself talking to someone you don’t want to, and you'll want to get out of the conversation..
So when a person starts talking to you, and you realize that it’s a waste of your time, listen to the person for about 5 to 10 Mississippis, then all of a sudden look like you just forgot something, pull out your cell phone and open up your email, apologize and say "I’m so sorry – I need to deal with something right away" – exchange business cards with that person, ask him/her to follow up with you via email (they won’t), walk away and pretend like you’re dealing with something on your cell phone for 30 seconds.
5. How to start and keep a conversation going
Most people walk up to someone at a networking event and ask: Hey so and so, what do you do?
A true super networker says: So Bob, how do you spend your time? That’ll get the person talking about what he/she actually likes to do.
- Ask follow up open ended questions. Yes/No questions suck and can end a conversation quickly. Make sure the questions you ask are open ended. Listen and get the person to talk about himself or herself. That’s how you build trust and integrity – by listening to what people have to say and commenting to get them to talk even more.
- When commenting, don’t just keep nodding or saying “wow” – vary your listening affirmations. Say wow. Then say awesome. Then say cool. Then say that’s really interesting. Varying your listening affirmations make you sound like you’re genuinely interested in what that person is talking about, whereas redundantly saying the same listening affirmation makes you sound like you’re not listening (even if you are).
- Another way to keep the conversation going is to not just stop after saying a listening affirmation. Follow up with an open ended question.
For example: Bob: I sold my college coffee business for half a million dollars.
You: That’s incredible – you must have had so many customers and awesome distribution channels set up – what did you do to get the word out?
6. Buy Winners coffee/lunch/dinner/drinks
Once you find someone that can help you – offer bait to get them to talk to you. Winners might not have time to give you all their advice at a networking event, so you’ll have to meet them somewhere else later on. The thing about important people is that they are extremely busy, their time is worth a lot of money, they get emailed constantly and are always working. They’re looking for a way to escape from everything and when someone offers to buy them lunch, drinks or dinner in exchange for their advice – it’s flattering and is a way to escape. What’s $15 to $50 for some excellent advice?
7. Follow Up or Forget About It
After a networking event, send an email out to everyone you’ve met. If you don't, then the people you met will forget about you forever.
I used to not know what to write in a follow up email, because I forgot what the person and I talked about. That's why I started to take notes on business cards.
After a conversation with a person, I’d take a pen out and scribble notes right on the person’s business card. The notes would include stuff about the person, the conversation we had and any next steps I had to take.