Post by Robbi Hess, Blog Manager
Whether you’re at the BlogPaws 2015 Conference or are planning to attend the Women in the Pet Industry Network (WIPIN) event in August in Oregon or if you’re attending a local Chamber of Commerce or other event, you need to know how to network. Hint: It’s not about rushing around, talking to everyone long enough to press a business card into their hands and then dashing off to the next person. When you do that, there is a good chance your business card will end up in the trash or in the bottom of their briefcase and your “meeting” will be forgotten.
Here, too, are my favorite networking tips that you should cultivate if you want to get a return on your networking and conference attendance investment:
- Know why you’re going before you leave the house. Are you looking for new clients? Do you need to make new contacts to meet a quota you’ve set for yourself to build your newsletter list? Are you there to learn as well as network? Is there a new product or service you want to share with others? Having a road map will help you make the most of conference attendance.
- Who do you want to meet? While you may not be able to meet everyone at a conference, you will likely have a few “must meet’ people on your list. Many conferences utilize social media in one form or another to not only promote their conferences but to give attendees a chance to interact before they arrive on site. Be active in those pre-conference forums and make plans to meet some of the people you’re interacting with.
- It’s not just about the keynote speakers. Of course you want your photo taken with a keynote speaker whose work you have admired for decades. I can’t blame you, I do that with Chris Brogan and Stan Smith every time I attend Social Media Marketing World. I also know there are fascinating attendees that I simply have to meet and I make certain I do just that.
- Prepare an elevator speech, but talk naturally. Believe me, everyone can tell when you’re reciting an elevator speech. Your elevator speech should be a roadmap for what you want to share, but it shouldn’t be rehearsed. Have a conversation. It’s more meaningful.
- You’re not there to accept credit card information and make a sale. When you’re at a networking event or a conference you are there to build relationships. Keep in mind that people want to work with people they “know, like and trust.” Jump start your relationship at the conference then keep in touch and continue to build it once you return home — that’s how you will make a sale.
- Be bold and network outside of your niche. Yes, you love and raise Poodles and have a lot in common with the Poodle people, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk with the ferret or cat people or the big dog crowd. Moving outside of your niche not only makes you a more well-rounded individual, but it could open the doors to new opportunities.
- Be welcoming. If you’re in a group of people and you see someone hovering on the outskirts, be the person who turns and invites the newbie into the group. Remember how much you despised wandering the high school cafeteria with your tray wondering where and with whom you were going to sit? It’s no different when you’re at a conference. Hint: It could be you on the outskirts of that group wanting to be let in.
- Ask open ended questions. At a networking event it’s tempting to jump into a conversation and tell all about yourself. What you really want, though is to get to know other people, right? To do that you need to ask questions. Look for common ground. Comment on a piece of jewelry, “I love your cat pin, do you own cats?” Viola, ice broken.
- Smile through it all. Just because you’re at a conference that doesn’t mean your outside life fades away, right? What does this mean? It means that you need to try hard to separate the two. Strangers will be polite and listen if you share your personal problems. But you don’t want to be remembered as, “the person who wouldn’t stop talking about their credit card debt, migraine headache or lost luggage.” If someone asks, then briefly share, but don’t make it the topic of conversation.
Now what? After the conference is over, the work isn’t done! You need to have a plan for following up with the individuals and business owners and brand representatives you met at the event. In a post next week I will cover, “What happens after the elevator speech?”