by Catherine Sandland
Catherine Sandland has been helping leaders, managers, business owners, trainers and consultants with their presentation skills for over 20 years. She is known as the ‘Presenting Queen’ and has written this month’s Pink Spaghetti blog on networking.
It came almost out of the blue although I shouldn’t really have been that surprised. The arm thrust into my chest, the hard stare, the smile that didn’t quite reach the eyes, the weapon aimed dangerously close to my heart…
It sounds like the beginning of a cheap penny thriller doesn’t it? All it needs is a darkened alley, some mist and menacing music playing in the background.
But this wasn’t an episode of Maigret or a chapter of the latest Rebus. This was your common or garden networking event and my assailant, a perfectly ordinary member of the business community – who just didn’t quite ‘get’ how networking works. The weapon of choice in this instance, not a gun or baseball bat, but a fairly standard business card.
It can feel like a networking event is full of a whole range of different characters to be evaded, handled, managed, and navigated – and for lots of people of course, that means networking events are to be avoided. A friend and fellow speaking skills trainer and coach, Andrew Thorpe, has written an excellent guide to Characters you’ll meet at Networking Events and you can read it here…
And yet, for some businesses, networking is the lifeblood for new clients, repeat business, higher profile and business presence. In fact, all businesses need networking of some kind even if it isn’t the more formal types of events – from the golf course to the breakfast meeting, from the government committee to the conference, from the lunch gathering to the online forum.
So how do you survive and thrive in the networking arena?
Here are a few questions to ask yourself before you enter the fray:
What’s your purpose in going?
And if your answer is to sell, then you maybe haven’t got the point of networking. Networking is a long-term game and it’s based on building relationships and making connections that might be useful to you and the people that you know. Ok, so you may sell after one meeting, but most likely you won’t. Instead you have the opportunity to get to know others and for them to get to know you. Based on that knowledge and the rapport that connects you, you then build a relationship. And that’s when the magic happens…you may recommend them, they may recommend you and there may even be a sale in it as well!
What outcomes can you expect from a meeting?
Most people know that pitching up at a networking event and expecting it all to happen right there and then is somewhat ambitious. But passively attending an event and expecting great things is also somewhat naïve. If you don’t set your intention from the start you may not achieve anything by going. So maybe you want to create some one-to-one meetings so you continue the relationship building or pick up information someone has shared with you? Perhaps you’d like to help or support someone at the event? Maybe you can share some information or a contact? Perhaps someone has expressed an interest in your newsletter or following your social media accounts? Know what outcomes you would like to achieve and use these to assess how successful your networking attendance has been.
Are you in the right place?
The best advice I was ever given when it comes to networking was to work out where your ideal customers and clients are and then hang out with them. This applies online as well as face-to-face. It often is the formal or organised events where we can find potential clients or suppliers but sometimes it is the school playground, the social events or the random quirks of fate…
But there is no point going to events or places where your clients are not (and where the people there are not in touch with your clients either).
How are you talking about your business?
As a presentation skills trainer, I am often asked about how to craft and deliver the 60 second introduction to your business or how to answer that most difficult of questions, ‘What do you do?’ Make sure that you explain clearly and concisely what difference your business makes to your clients and why someone would need to buy from you. Make it have impact. Make it compelling. Make it easy to understand and remember (so they can talk about you to other people). Here are a few blogs I have written in the past that might be helpful…
Networking can be dangerous – remember the assassin I mentioned at the beginning? Not to mention the amount of weight you can put on with the networking breakfasts, the networking lunches, the networking dinner and cocktails!
Networking can also be a powerful way of raising your profile as a business, of getting to know and getting to be known within your business community and ultimately of course, of attracting new clients and new business.
Be prepared, be armed and be effective!