So now that you have cool business cards, bet you can’t wait to use them. They’re just burning a hole in your shirt pocket. Who wants one? They’re free to the first 250 people you meet.
There’s a bunch of people eager to get their hands on your cards. You can find them at a local networking event. You know one of those stuffy Chamber of Commerce mixers. Or maybe a locally-organized Tweetup is more your style.
Networking events offer a great chance to get to know who’s in your community and introduce yourself. To do it right, you need more than just your cards and a firm handshake. Take a killer elevator pitch.
You know the theory. If you happen to share an elevator ride with a potential investor, client or employer, you only have the time it takes to get to their floor to make your sales pitch.
Probably the most important thing to remember is not to say what you do but what value your employer or clients get from you. Would you rather speak to someone who says “I sell business insurance” or “I help businesses prevent disasters.” Yes, it’s semantics peppered with hubris. Again I ask. Who is more likely to interest you?
Almost as important as what you bring is what you should check at the door. I’m talking about the traits and tendencies that will get in the way as you make your way around the room. You want to stand out for all the right reasons.
The great thing about being at a networking event is that everyone is there to network. They want to meet people like you because you want to meet people like them. Circular logic I know. But it works very well.
So relax. Just introduce yourself and give them your best elevator pitch.
An empty hand
Grab a drink. I’m not recommending alcohol. That’s your choice. It doesn’t affect everyone the same way. But a drink helps you two ways.
First, it gives you something to do with one hand. Makes you look more relaxed which will help you relax. That will make it easier for you to mix.
Second, you’re probably going to be talking more than usual. You’re mouth will get a bit dry. A little hydration will help you speak more naturally.
So what do you do after you’ve exchanged elevator pitches and don’t seem to have much more to say? Try these five questions to keep the conversation rolling:
- What do you like most about what you do?
- You mentioned that you were in [industry]. What got you started in that direction?
- Where else do you usually network?
- What are some of your biggest challenges?
- How can I help you?
These questions are a great way to keep people talking and to learn something. If you find yourself going through all five questions without much input from yourself, they’re going to remember you as a great conversationalist.
Your sales pitch
I know the real reason you’re going is to build business. And the people in the room want to build business. So why can’t we make a deal or two?
That’s the equivalent of a one-night stand instead of a lasting, meaningful relationship.
These events are chances to start relationships. Once you leave the event, you have the opportunity to keep in touch with people
After the event
Like I said, this is the start of a relationship so you’re not done networking once you leave the room.
- Review your cards: I tell my fiance about the people I meet and show her the cards I collect. This helps reinforce my memories of the meetings.
- Create a database of contacts: I enter their card information and link to their social media profiles in Gmail’s contacts. I can sync that up to the Contact app on my iPod Touch so I have the names with me. Choose the contact manager that works best for your organizational style.
- Put a face to their entry: If I find a social media profile – LinkedIn or Facebook – it’s very likely there’s a photo. Gmail lets me link from their photo to the Contacts entry. It helps me remember who they are.
- Follow through: You need to keep contact with the people you meet. Don’t rely on catching up with them at the next event. It’s probably impossible to do this for everyone who gives you a card. So contact only the people you create the strongest connections with. Or follow up with the people you meet for the second time at an event. Create a strategy you can maintain.
- Don’t spam: Yes, I said it’s important to database these introductions and keep in contact. That doesn’t mean they want your company newsletter or sales pitches. A business card is not an opt-in transaction. If you are going to follow up, be human.
- Repeat: Keep it up. These events become much easier the more times you do it. Mostly because you start recognizing people and you enjoy catching up with them. That familiarity will give you the confidence to keep meeting new people.
Soon, you’re going to need to reorder those awesome business cards.
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Great Tips. Some people do not really know how to network.
The tips you mention will only help us, and hopefully, grab us business deals.
“I sell business insurance” or “I help businesses prevent disasters.” This is a classic example. It shows the human side of yourself, rather than just a ‘salesman’. People can relate to the latter sentence, but not the former.
Carl, this is brilliant advice! For someone new to a lot of the ‘freelance business’ things, like networking, this sort of straight-forward advice is exactly what I need to learn and employ.
Bookmarked for re-reading later on and inspiration, thanks once again!
This is an excellent post. I don’t tend to go to events to work the room and make 50 connections. I’d prefer to make five connections to people I actually care about talking to and with whom I can build on the relationship. That being said, I realize that most people attend networking events in order to network as you’ve described above and I definitely need to hone those skills. I’ve found this post to be very informative.
Great points- I find the whole process a bit nerve-racking so it helps to see the inportant points reinforced.
Great article and definitely something I am going to try out next time I am out networking. I especially like the elevator pitch comparison between, “I sell business insurance” or “I help businesses prevent disasters.” Making it memorable is what it’s all about at these first meetings.
I am new to networking and this is going to help me in my next events! Thanks. It makes you think ““I sell business insurance” or “I help businesses prevent disasters.” great line. I’m working on my tag line.
Your article summarizes the very basics of networking. Perhaps you could beef it up with additional information to increase the value of your blog? For example, once you get past the elevator speech and initial questions….what then? What are good strategies to keep the conversation both going AND productive for the reason you’re at the networking event? What if you find yourself in a business dead-end conversation, but the other person is a chatter and really friendly, so it’s difficult to disengage and move on to meet another person? Let’s face it, yes, we want to form real human-to-human connections, and I agree these conversations are the start of possible long-term business relationships, but there can be a very limited amount of time to meet people at the event. I have personally been very successful at networking events using the strategies you give, remaining in contact with people from networking events for years, but now want to take it to the next level and make time spent at the events more efficient and productive. Suggestions on how to do this past the basic information you provide would be a great addition to this article.
What are some tips for approaching a potential employer before the elevator speech. Do we point out something we like about their outfit, buy them a drink or just grab their hand. Let us know more! Great post!
This is great advice; especially for someone new to networking and who suffers from terminal shyness. I think, even more than that, I have to get over the “do they really want to hear from me after this event” issue and go ahead and just follow up. The worst that can happen is they delete my email/voicemail, right?
Thanks for sharing these tips! I’m going to dig out the business cards I collect and start cataloging them!