The Four Stages of Effective Networking
Business people know that one of the keys to success is networking with potential customers, partners, investors and other stakeholders. Even in the Internet Age, face‐to‐face networking and word‐of‐mouth advertising remain important activities for many businesses and industries. At the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce, networking is one of our primary value propositions. In addition to our monthly Business After Hours and Business Over Breakfast events, we include a networking component into nearly every event. Engaged members view board or committee volunteer work as networking opportunities as well.
I also recognize that effective networking doesn’t come naturally to everyone ‐ but the good news is that it is a skill that everyone can improve. Below I’ve identified what I see as the four stages of effective networking as well as some specific tips that may help you become a better networker!
- Review the event details to be prepared for who might be attending, identify some potential common interests or pre‐plan some general topics of conversation.
- Use social media ‐ consider 'tweeting' about the event ‐ "Looking forward to #networking with
@Fton_Chamber members at Biz After Hours on Thursday at McCrea Elliott Hill on Main Street" Or put a note on LinkedIn with the flyer promoting the networking event from the hosting organization. This will give others a heads up to keep an eye out for you or encourage other people you’re connected with to attend.
- Take business cards (or maybe even brochures if you have a small one that you might want to provide to people you meet).
- Wear a company name tag if you have one.
- Bring along your firm (but not TOO firm) handshake.
- Have a look around and decide who you want to approach first ‐ is there someone standing by themselves? Someone you know ‐ just to break the ice? BUT don't spend all of your time with the people you already know!
- Make eye contact, smile naturally, have an approachable demeanour.
- Have an idea for a general opening line (questions work great too!). “Hi, I'm Krista (then get their name). Hi Bob, I’m (insert profession here) and I work at (insert organization here) ‐ what do you do Bob?”
- Be prepared to give a one or two liner that easily explains what you do.
- Ask people about more than just their professional life ‐ talking about their interests / family / etc this builds rapport and can start a conversation more easily. Don’t forget to use open ended questions!
- If you believe there may be opportunity to do business together ‐ suggest getting together at another time to explore more fully.
- Some people like to take a photo or two and do a quick tweet! Make sure you tag your host and use their event hashtag if they have one.
- Be positive in your conversations and opinions.
- Ask questions and do more listening than talking.
- Be careful with food and drink, it's hard to shake hands or give out a card if both hands are full.
- Help others network ‐ make introductions and start conversations.
- Get comfortable with finishing a conversation "Bob, it's been great chatting with you and I'll followup with you next week as we discussed. I just noticed Jim has arrived and we've been trying to connect so I am going to go say ‘hi’!”
- Follow up with the people you said you want to meet with / connect with further.
- Connect on social media with people you met (and don't use the generic I want to add you to my network ‐ personalize it!). LinkedIn is particularly effective for this purpose.
- Enter contact information from business cards into your email system or organizer.
Overall the key is to practice, practice, practice. Like most things, the more you network ‐ the better you get at it! It may be uncomfortable when first starting, but if you stick at it, you’ll see results in no time. You never know what conversation might lead to business down the road and people are more likely to remember (and recommend!) someone they have met in person. I encourage all members to attend our networking events regularly ‐ you only get out of a chamber membership what you put into it!