An important part of every marketing plan is building and maintaining relationshipswith other people. And networking is the most effective way to do just that.
There are many ways to network; joining networking groups, such as your localChamber of Commerce or a BNI chapter, taking the time to meet with other businessprofessionals one-on-one, or attending large networking events.
All are good strategies and all have their pros and cons, but it’s the last one thatfrequently makes business professionals shudder. And that’s because for somepeople the hardest part of networking is walking into a roomful of strangers andstriking up a conversation.
There are two ways to approach mingling situations. Both are good so stick with theone that makes you feel most comfortable.
The first is to strike up a conversation with someone else who is also standing alone.And (a gimmicky but effective tip), wear something fun or interesting – like a lapelpin a colourful shirt or a unique necklace – to draw people to you and provide anicebreaker for the conversation. For many people, this approach removes some ofthe nervousness that comes with mingling at a big event because it turns the largegathering into small one-on-one conversations.
The other tactic is to join a group already deep in conversation. The key to thisapproach is to quietly insert yourself. Don’t speak up until you’ve really listened tothe conversation. And show that you’re paying attention by being an active listener– nod at appropriate times, smile when necessary and make ‘uh huh’ noises whenfitting.
When you do jump in, don’t talk about yourself unless you’re specifically asked.Instead introduce a commonality – such as a recent business situation that relatesto the conversation – or ask a question of the others in the group. Your questionshould be an open-ended ‘how’ or ‘why’ one to keep people engaged and talking,rather than a closed-ended ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question that stunt conversation and leaveseveryone fumbling awkwardly for something else to say.
And here’s a final quick, but useful tip. If you’re mingling at an evening networkingevent that serves drinks, always hold your drink in your left hand. If it’s in your righthand, you’ll have to make the quick drink-hand switch before shaking every hand.And you’ll likely be holding out a cold and clammy one.