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5 Steps to Better Networking

A few weeks ago my husband attended a networking mixer for Bentley alumni and learned about a high-powered real estate investor. “Oh wow, I’d love an introduction,” he said to his pal. “Sure! Just figure out what you’re going to say to him.” Translation: This guy has less than a nanosecond, so come up with a meaningful pitch or request that will make us both look good.

That’s the trick to good networking, right? Make it easy and attractive for the other person to help you.

We’ve all plagued by bad networking. For example, those invitations to connect on LinkedIn that often come in with the template message and no other explanation. Or, one step above, “I was hoping we could arrange a quick call.” Makes you want to go back to “Mad Men” days when a gatekeeper would respond for you, “Yes, is she expecting your call? And what is this regarding?”

So, let’s say you just signed up for a networking event. Here are 5 tips to help you get the most out of it:

1.   Study the attendee list. If there’s one available, or ask around to find out who’s going. A quick shout out to your Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn friends can quickly accomplish this and ensure you’ll know people there. Your confidence and networking mojo will flow a lot easier if there are familiar faces around who can introduce you to new people.  Plus, knowing who’s going in advance can save you the embarrassment of forgetting a name. I do this with my husband before we go to one of his unruly family functions with 42 cousins: “What’s their daughter’s name again?”

2.   Do some pre-game research. Who do you absolutely want to meet? And what’s your agenda once you’re talking to them? What’s the best way to approach the conversation? Here’s where it’s useful to do research before the event. Find some things you can connect over, e.g. You have kids the same age, you’re both marathon runners, you support the same charity.

People dread networking events because they expect to be accosted by business pitches. Leading with business is an amateur move. Shared interests establish credibility and demonstrate that you’re done your homework. They make small talk more meaningful and enjoyable.

3.   Set goals for the event. Why are you going? What do you want to get out of this? Chances are you’re not going to close business over cocktails and crab puffs, but you CAN meet important business contacts that will put the wheels in motion. Imagine the flow of your conversation: The key questions you want to ask them, clever sound bites about you and what you do, etc. If you have only 30 seconds, what are the critical points you want to communicate?

4.   Now relax. No one wants to hang around with someone always on the make. Once you’ve said what you need to, or established a connection, back off. Settle into the conversation, enjoy yourself, and ask sincere questions. Take cues from their body language and eye contact. If you’re talking to the host, or another sought-after person, respect their time and obligations. Mingle versus monopolize.

5.   Cement your relationship. So you’ve succeeded in making a “contact.” Happy day. The only way they’re going to remember you a week from now is if you establish a connection after the event. Send them an email or a LinkedIn invite within 24 hours. Bonus points if you deliver something you talked about, e.g. Here’s a link to that mobile article I told you about, or Check out this company for business insurance.

That’s it. Sounds like common sense, but you’d be surprised at how many people goof this up because their ambitions get the best of them.

Have a networking tip? Let’s hear it!

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