As a facilitator of MBCnetworking and attendee at various groups over the years I have observed many people’s approach to networking and I share with you a few thoughts on the subject:
- Attend with an open mind, go with the flow. Some people seem to judge an event by the number of business cards they collected. That is not my evaluation criterion; I prefer the opportunity to have a meaningful conversation which can be achieved if there are 5 or 50 people in the room. Sometimes it works better if there are only five - maybe people just relax a bit more.
- Be friendly – you would think this would be obvious! Be friendly even to your competitors. I’ve witnessed some horror stories of people slinging some mud at their competitors (worse still dissing them in the one minute slot). Don’t go there . . .
- As an extrovert, I have to remind myself that some powerful business people are not necessarily natural networkers, so don’t overlook those looking on from the sidelines. If you are also an extrovert be open and welcome people into your conversations. If you struggle in this environment my tip is to look for two people with a wide gap between them and slot yourself into that gap, reminding yourself that they will be greatful you've arrived.
- Stay calm. If you spot an influential business person please don’t start fawning. I’ve seen this happen and it is awkward.
- Allow yourself or others to move on. Some people will monopolise you so be kind to yourself, and to them, and move them on to someone else or request permission to continue networking in the room. And don't take it personally if others want to circulate.
- Judge whether to hand out your business card. Consider what you do with business cards when you receive them. I'm guessing you add them to an email marketing list unless the exchange of cards was made with a particular purpose in mind.
The last two points are my personal favourite and I single them out as a gentle reminder that your network of contacts is not just a place to push your own wares.
- Introduce people within and across your networks – be the real-life face-to-face version of LinkedIn and Facebook whenever you can. You are part of a community.
- Contribute to this community and help others in your group. There are so many ways that businesses can support each other, what do you do?