The fall business conferences are in full-bloom and holiday parties are right around the corner. For business owners, and sales people — this is where the rubber meets the road. You’re out trolling for new business to close out the fourth quarter and teeing up prospects to start 2016 on the right foot.
You’re going to meet people at receptions in bars, restaurants and convention centers. There will be office, house and catering hall parties. The pure business events will feature people with name tags, but they won’t always show their company name and title. The office and home parties probably won’t have name badges, so you will be flying blind in terms of identifying who’s worth speaking with. Then again, the person you dismissed as a “no” may be the sibling, spouse or friend of someone you’re trying to meet.
There are 10 easy steps to follow to being a good networker — regardless of whether you’re outgoing or not.
- Look professional and well groomed. Your appearance is just as important at a networking event as it is on a first date. You may be one of the most talented individuals in the room but unless you’re Mark Zuckerberg, a T-shirt and jeans won’t cut it.
- Make sure you have legible business cards. Go with standardized cards and don’t make the writing too small or difficult to read. People are either using scanners that they feed or phones that take pictures and upload the cards. Don’t be cute and give out the mini-cards that are the size of piece of check mix.
- Get there early. Professional networking events typically last an hour and in some cases two. Parties tend to last longer, but once people have tied a few on and the crowd along with the sound gets amped up — you won’t be able to have decent conversation.
- Wear a cool tie, pin, bracelet, watch or something that will encourage people to come up to speak with you. I’m known for my collection of conversation-starter ties. My kids used to get me all kinds of fun ties when they were little. Initially I wore the ties to humor them but I quickly realized it was a great conversation starter. Unique items are very helpful in starting conversations, especially for people who aren’t comfortable with approaching strangers.
- Never start off a conversation by talking about yourself. Always introduce yourself and then ask the person for their name and what they do. Most everyone is comfortable talking about themselves.
- Always look directly at the person speaking and don’t look around while you are being spoken to. It’s rude and you’ll seem disinterested. If you are easily distracted have your back face the rest of the room to help you focus on the person you’re engaging.
- Ask for a business card as soon as you start a conversation. I learned a long time ago to obtain a business card right away or I would forget to do it. Getting the business card is getting the gold.
- Try to meet as many people as possible. I try to get at least 10 cards in an hour. I introduce myself, ask new contacts to tell me who they are, where they’re from and what they do. Depending on if we have anything in common, the conversation can last longer than others. Some people advise getting to know a few people really well. My concern is that I might have missed someone I should have gotten to know. Plus, I want to build an enormous extensive database of contacts.
- When you get a business card make a few notes on it. Where are they from? What did you talk about? Where did you meet them? The notes are critical so when you see the person next time you can make a strong impression that you remember them.
- Make sure you write to everyone you meet within 24-48 hours. Send a short e-mail that tells them that you were pleased to meet them, where you met and ask the person how you can help them. Don’t ask for anything.
The old adage of “it’s about who you know not what you know” are words to live buy — especially when developing new relationships at conferences and holiday parties. Happy networking.
Marc Kramer, president of Kramer Communications and executive director of the Private Investors, is a Philadelphia-based serial entrepreneur, author of six books and an adjunct college professor.