In recent weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to attend a couple of major events, including the WBENC National Conference and the Summer Fancy Food Show. While these events attract very different audiences and serve very different business objectives, they have one thing in common: they are prime ground for networking. Now, I recognize that when I mention networking most people cringe and think of emotionally taxing and awkward exercises in “working a room,” but it’s all in how you look at it. Networking doesn’t need to be stressful. For me, these events are about making connections with other people who have shared interests and creating a network of resources for everything from referrals to validating ideas to gathering information. You don’t need to be a seasoned public relations professional or extrovert to succeed at networking. Here are a few tips on how to come away from any event on the right path to building your network:
Know Your Core Story – It is so much easier to meet someone new and begin a conversation when you are clear about who you are and what you do. Everyone should have their story ready for that moment when someone asks what you do. Working in a public relations agency, we coach our clients on how to effectively tell their story and we need to know our own story just as well. To develop your core story, know your strengths and what is most valuable about what you do. Make sure to rehearse it so that you’re not stuck when someone asks you the question.
Build Deeper Relationships – Networking doesn’t necessarily mean quantity over quality. During the WBENC Conference, we had the privilege of listening to networking expert Kelly Hoey talk about the concept of “deep networks” and this aligns completely with my approach. Even if you’re an introvert, taking the time to develop a relationship with someone when they react positively to your core story, or when you share a connection, can result in a greater long-term payoff. Ultimately, your goal at any big event should be taking a connection you make and turning it into one-on-one interactions. Which brings me to….
Follow Up – The more you network, the more contacts you get, and the more contacts you get, the harder it is to keep your network active. The most important part of networking is keeping relationships alive, so find ways to keep in touch with your growing circle of relationships. Drop old co-workers an e-mail asking how they are doing and keeping them posted on what you’re up to. Schedule coffee follow-ups with people you meet at events. Keep in regular touch with important people in your network by referring them business, asking questions or sharing articles that remind you of them. As with any relationship, you don’t want to be in touch only when you need favors. And, finally….
Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that everyone at any event you attend is there with the same agenda as you. They’ll likely be relieved to have you approach them and if you walk into a room with a friendly smile, it’s likely someone will approach you. Ready to start building your network?