When I attended my first Chamber of Commerce meeting, I really felt like I was a fish out of water. I came in shorts… and a t-shirt. I didn’t have any business cards, nor did I have any idea what I was doing.
And everyone was in suits. Talk about embarassing!
But I eventually figured out how to “play the game” and make the most of these events. If you’ve never been to a networking mixer, or have but with little results to show, I’m going to outline how I’ve leveraged these events while growing my consultancy.
Don’t Come Unprepared
Some events, especially those on Meetup.com, allow you to see a list of everyone who’s RSVPed.
Often times, you can find out enough about an attendee on their Meetup profile page to look them up and find out who they are and what they do, but if all else fails a simple Google search of their name plus your city is enough. A lot of the entrepreneurs who show up at these events exist on some company’s “About Us” page, so it’s usually pretty easy to find.
After you’ve done a little research on who’s attending, come up with a hit list that you can use at the event. You want to make sure you meet with the right people.
However, events that aren’t on Meetup.com often won’t give you an RSVP list — and that’s fine. You just want to make sure that you have a sense for who typically shows up at these events.
- Look at the organization’s Facebook page. Have they uploaded photos of past events? Are people tagged? Who’s posting on their public wall? These are all great ways to learn a little about who you’ll be meeting.
- Find out who’s hosting the event and get to know them. They’ve undoubtedly hosted dozens of these things, and know who’s who. Get on their good list, and they’ll make sure you meet the right people.
- Research more about the organization behind the event. Who are they? Who are their members? Who’s in charge? Before attending my first local technology council mixer, I read over articles that covered them in our local business newspaper.
Learn To Listen, But Don’t Get Stuck
Being that you’re “fresh blood” (many of the attendees go to the same. event. every. single. month) you’re undoubtedly going to need to tell a dozen or so people your business biography.
Business owners love to talk about themselves. So let them. You’re there to expand your ecosystem and the best way to do that is to learn about someone, figure out how their needs intersect with your skills, and offer them something of value.
Listening is an art. As Hemingway said, “Most people never listen.” And it’s true — I’m often guilty of it myself. But encourage people to tell you about themselves. Followup with questions that directly relate to what was just said, and not just the usual list of questions bounced around at these events.
Ask them about their business, how they got involved in it, what they specialize in, and what problems they face every day. The latter, if identified, can be a great context point for future discussions around ways that you could work with them.
But listening is more than nodding your head while staring around the room, looking for the next person to talk to.
That’s called boredom. An even more important art is knowing how to close a conversation. Have you ever been in that awkward stage of a conversation where the both of you are haphazardly looking around the room, and end up needing to flash a smile when one of you catches the others eye? Yeah, it happens to me all the time. When you’re stuck in a conversation, and both parties are no longer benefiting from the discussion, it’s time to leave.
It took a lot of rehearsal for me to get comfortable saying, “Well Bob, it was great meeting you tonight. Here’s my card and let’s stay in touch.”
Always Offer Something Of Value
Everytime I end up at one of these events, I come back home with a stack of business cards that ultimately take up permanent residence in my sock drawer.
My favorite trick of the trade is to opt people in on the spot into my newsletter or e-mail course.
Here’s a great way to get on-the-spot opt-ins:
“Mary, it was a pleasure meeting you and you all are doing some amazing work over there at Acme Co. I have a weekly newsletter that goes out to local business owners where I cover the intersection of business and technology, would you be interested in joining?”
Even if you aren’t opting people in from the event, always followup with every contact you made. And if you’re like me and suck at remembering things, right after you close a conversation, jot a note on the back of their business card with who they are and what you talked about. When you email these contacts the next day, you’re going to want to reference as much as you can — create that personal bond that people crave.
Networking events can seem like a waste of time, especially if you aren’t seeing results. But your goal shouldn’t necessarily be to win clients on the spot; instead, you’re looking to build your ecosystem, or audience, and create a community of people who know you and respect your work.