Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Networking Tips from the Chamber

Summer is a great time to take advantage of some upcoming networking opportunities. These tips and best practices are the combined wisdom of the staff at the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. On average, the Chamber staff attends 2-3 networking events per week where we are not only there as networkers, but also as facilitators helping our members make valuable connections with one another.

Event Networking Tips:
  • GO! You cannot make any connections if you don’t get up and go! Chamber events are typically in the morning, so it takes effort, but most people agree that it is worth it.
  •  Speak loudly and clearly, smile, and ask questions. People love talking about themselves! Some good conversation starters include: “Where do you work?” “Have you heard this speaker before?” “How long have you been involved in this organization?”
  • Do your research beforehand
  • Know who is going to be in the room
  • Create a reasonable list of people you would like to connect with
  • Do a little research – recent company news can be a great ice-breaker for a conversation
  • Never end a conversation with “I’m going to the bar” and know your limits! If you do not know your limits (or you have a low tolerance for alcohol) stick to non-alcoholic beverages.
  • Be prepared – know why you are there and what you hope to achieve. Whether you hope to gain information about a particular industry, make a few connections in the industry, or find a new job you should have a plan. It is OK if you deter from your plan, but if you go in to it with one anxiety might be reduced!
  • Make sure you read the papers that morning. It helps you have informed conversations, and it’s just good practice anyway.
  • Ask for an attendee list beforehand, and circle the top three people you want to connect with. It gives you a focus. - At the Chamber, we are always willing to share attendee lists 3 days before an event. Other organizations are likely willing to do the same!
  • Once you meet a few people, take the initiative to make introductions to others who enter the circle - pay it forward!!!
  • Get to know the event organizers. This will help you when you want an attendee list, an introduction or to be seated next to someone specific.
  • Do not sit with or walk around the room with people you know – you can talk to them after the event. This is the time to meet new people.
  • If you see someone standing by themselves, go up to them and introduce yourself. You have just “saved” this person who was probably nervous about approaching others.
Follow Up Tips:
  • When you meet someone and get their business card, write some information about them on the back and what you discussed or commitments you made – so you remember the next day.
  • When following up, try to include something customized or personal – did they mention something they were working on? A big meeting ahead that day? In your follow up, mention that you hope it went well. It shows you were listening!
  • Write a note to someone everyday – it can be a thank you note, a note with an article you found interesting, a letter of encouragement, etc. It will be well received and remembered.
  • If you have made a good connection, follow up with an email and invite that person out for coffee or invite them to another event that may be of interest to them. It may seem awkward at first, but they will likely be receptive. Suggest a location that is convenient for them.
Tips on Reducing Networking Induced Anxiety:
  • Be confident, be yourself and remember that you are in a room with others in similar situation.
  • Remember that everyone is in the same boat, so don’t let the jitters hold you back from engaging.
  • Have the mindset that you are there to offer what you have to others, not that you must get something from the event/conversation/etc… knowing you have something to give will help you gain confidence.
  • If nervous, approach a central area – food table, bar, sponsor booth – and try to connect (“wow, this food looks delicious”) and start dialogue.
General Best Practices:
  • Ask a lot of questions – people love talking about themselves and sharing stories, etc
  • Use the time to find out how others got their jobs, what was their career path etc.. you are asking for advice – not for a job or a sale.
  • Speak loudly and make eye contact. Be pleasant and friendly.
  • Stand tall and proud - this will attract people to you.
  • Reach out first to shake hands with a good, firm handshake.
  • DO NOT CHEW GUM!
  • When introducing yourself, always use your first and last name.
  • Dress for success – the way you present yourself says a lot about you. People notice and it is often one of the things they remember most from a first meeting.
  • Listen, Listen, Listen! This takes the pressure off of you to talk and you definitely do not want to get caught looking over someone’s shoulder.
Have any other tips? Share them in the comments section!

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