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Posts Tagged ‘Conversation’

In her recent post, Personal Branding Blog author Liz Lynch quoted “according to Meetings & Conventions magazine, more than 27 million people attend conferences, trade shows, and conventions each year. And the main reason they go is to network.”

With humor she went on to comment on selling, “No one is walking around thinking, “I’m really in the mood to hire a consultant today” or “I’m not leaving until I spend millions on computer software.”  So avoid turning your conversations into sales pitches, even if you know for certain that you can help.”

She agrees with my thoughts on coming to any networking meeting ready with some key points to cover, “Connections happen through conversation, but if you’re not prepared, most of your discussions will consist primarily of small talk.  While some of this is necessary to get the ball rolling, too much won’t advance your relationship very far.”

In Part 1 of her series she focuses on setting clear goals, and Part 3 wraps up with insight on how to maximize your time. All three articles in the series are worth a read and you may want to consider adding her posts to your RSS feed. I bet she’ll have more to offer as you grow your networking skills.

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barn-cattle-cows-438382-lLately I have been attending and writing about small group networking options. This week I did the opposite. From one of the many social medias I follow I was invited to a brand new networking event called Spark. It was to be held one of the newest and most dramatic places downtown and I had been curious to see the space. The program was about generating and supporting new business ideas, which is always interesting and the price was practically free. Moreover, I have learned over time that  when I hear about a new networking event – just go. It is an opportunity to be in a room with lots of bright shiny new faces, and in this case lots and lots of new faces. The crowd was massive and diverse, but luckily dotted with a few familiar faces which makes getting started easier.

The great thing about attending a one-time or launch of an event is that there are no groups or cliques. Some people may come with a friend or colleague but most people are on their own and looking for someone to talk with. And since they served need-a-fork food I had an easy excuse to barge into a tall table grouping in order to eat. People always welcome you to their cluster if they see you juggling a glass a fork and a plate of food. Normally I don’t recommend filling both hands as it inhibits handshaking and card exchanging, but if you are heading to a table it can be an asset. While you are in the food line, look around for an opening at a likely table.

At a large event try not to get overwhelmed by the amount of bodies. You can use the same tricks to get comfortable as in a small group, and it is easier to have a discussion in a food line when it is moving slowly. It is also easier to melt away when others join a conversation and move on to meet more people.

Like any other event, try to have a few good conversations. Spend more time with people you are likely to do business with later and move on from people who are too many steps away from being a direct sale or resource. In a one-shot event, you can’t focus on who they may know, you won’t get to know anyone well enough to create an environment for a referral. Save that for your membership groups where you can build long-term relationships.

Lastly, if there are speaking sessions you are interested in go, if not there are always folks hanging back and still networking in the halls and cocktail room. When the masses head into the program, a huge event gets a lot smaller. If you hate crowds it will offer a welcome breather and a chance to get to know others who may feel the same way.

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A great way to expand your network and be recognized as a leader is to bring a few people together and see what happens. Need some ideas for what to do? Try these new ideas for finding common ground:

  1. Trending Topic — By following some local people on Twitter I saw a post from Valeria Maltoni of Conversation Agent about a free gathering to talk about social media.   I have learned to just go when I think something might be interesting and am usually glad I did. With coffee donated by Saxby’s and space provided by Villanova University, we had a dynamic breakfast gathering of about 20 people, only one of whom I had ever met before.
  2. Similar Client Focus — I was recently invited to a small lunch gathering by Julie Friedman Bacchini of Neptune Moon Design. We met once at a member-based networking group and she decided to invite me and 5 other people who all work with non-profits to a lunch.  I met some interesting people, got some new ideas and found a new writer to add to my list of resources.
  3. Cross Pollinating —  Know some people from one group who would be great for another? I have some peers from an association who are thinking of starting a new, niche association. They reached out to active members and mixed in other colleagues to explore the idea.
  4. Six Degrees — Years ago I met a dynamic marketer at Aramark. who is a generous referrer. Since we met, she has introduced me to a fabulous writer, and a number of other marketers. Those referrals have connected me to a brilliant strategist, subcontractors and a host of clients. I realized that the original contacts had all moved on and had not seen each other in person in years — a perfect time to arrange a lunch or drinks to thanks them for the bounty their efforts bring.
  5. Shared Need — A colleague recently introduced me to Linda Bandura, a startup marketer/designer. Within a week of meeting, Linda invited me to a head shot party she arranged with her photographer. It was a small gathering of women professionals to chat, drink tea and get that professional portrait taken that we need but all avoid. A fun way to network — and a brilliant way for a photographer to meet new prospects and a marketer to be seen as a leader. I liked it so much, I am thinking of planning one of my own and inviting clients and prospects.
  6. Fun for a Cause — Many nonprofits host social events as fundraisers. I was invited to join a group for Martini’s and Makeovers at Saks Fifth Avenue to support Dragonfly Forest, a camp for children with serious illnesses. Going to a public event with a few others you know makes it easier to try something new.
  7. Great Resource Discussion — Rather than your standard book group, try gathering to share your best resource. You could each share a synopsis of the lessons learned from a recent blog, webinar, conference or a favorite website.

An advantage of the micro-event is that it is once and done. No weekly meeting, no heavy preparation unless the group wants that. The purpose is to bring together people with some shared interest to then branch off and form their own new relationships.

The interesting thing about these events is that none of the leaders self promoted. Just coordinating and connecting raised their profile and left the impression of leadership — without saying a word other than “welcome” and “ I thought you might like to know each other”.  Think about what kind of mini-events you can plan to get to know new resources, referrers and prospects.

Looking for other ideas for how to connect in small groups, read Networking Goes Small.

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My niece started college this year at a large state university. Due to scheduling, she wasn’t able to join the club sport she participated in all through high school. It wasn’t long before she realized that she was having trouble finding a group among the masses and needed to find a way to scale down her experience. As a child she was a swimmer, so she joined the swimming club and has now found a group she can call her own. The huge crowd has been brought down to relationship scale.

When joining a new organization the size can often be overwhelming. Joining – or creating – a small group-within-a-group Is a great stepping stone to one-on-one relationships. Some trends to try:

  • Find a club — Affinity clubs help people bond over similar interests. Sharing a favorite activity with a small group is a great way to build contacts and friendships. If your favorite activity isn’t available, start your own.
  • Take it online – Online communities are great for addressing special interests. Facebook, LinkedIn and Flickr all have privacy settings that allow only members to see content. Connecting with members online often allows people to stay in touch and learn more about each other faster.
  • Bring it offline – Like everywhere else, in online communities people are seeking personal connection. Twitter users are connecting in person with local events called “tweetups”. Search www.search.twitter.com for events in your area. The NHL team the Washington Capitals created a LinkedIn group for fans and then invited them to a game. Read “A Different Look at Networking” to learn more. If you have joined a group and are only participating virtually, attend an in-person meet-up or plan one yourself.
  • Get social – Choose a few people you know a little and host a micro-event. Bringing together people you know who don’t know each other is a great way to get to know everyone better. For some great ideas, read 7 Ideas for Small Group Networking.

Sometimes the hardest part is getting to know the first few people. If you meet one person, ask him or her whom else you should know. Get a few of those people together to discuss a topic of common interest, industry trends, or just to meet others and you have a manageable event that is less stressful than a room full of people and more comfortable for some than a one-on-one lunch or meeting.

For people looking to make friends or build business relationships, a small group invitation can help avoid uncomfortable situations, confusion with dating, or worry about having enough to say. Next time you’d like to get to know someone better, invite a few others and see what happens.

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An interesting thing about business networking, it that if you do it enough you are bound to start running into people you have already met. For some people, this can be a gift to have someone you recognize and feel comfortable approaching, for others it’s frustrating to meet the same people over and over.

Either way of thinking, make the most of the event by taking that relationship to the next level. Jan Kopple had a great suggestion “I find out one new thing about someone I already know”. It is so easy to see someone familiar and chat about the information you already know, or to avoid them in hopes of meeting fresh leads, but it is not really helpful.

I can’t count how many times I have known someone for quite a while before we discovered how we could help each other. To speed up the process, don’t stop at asking for referrals. Take a look at this great list from Hazel Walker of the Networking Strategist Blog:

  1. You could put an article about my services in your newsletter, I will do the same for you.
  2. You could invite me to a networking opportunity that you may be going to.
  3. You could nominate me for an award it would build my credibility
  4. You could attend an event with me; it would create visibility for both of us.
  5. You could display my information or products in your office or store.
  6. You could mention me in your blog.
  7. You could read my blog and comment, and then link to my blog.
  8. You could introduce me to your network
  9. You could write an article for my newsletter
  10. You could invite your best client to our chapter so I could meet them.
  11. You could WRITE me a great testimonial that I could used in my materials.
  12. You could put my brochure or information in your client mailings.

Having some ideas about what you could ask to learn more and get more out of networking makes it much easier to respond. Not everyone will be comfortable recommending a prospect right away, but most people are happy to help in smaller ways to get to know you better.

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What I hear most often from people is “how do you just walk up to people and start talking?”

Ok, so most of the time when networking, you are walking into a room that already has a number of people – and they all seem like they are already talking to someone. Great, now what?

What you have to remember is that unlike a dinner party, many of the people talking to each other just met a minute ago, you are not interrupting lifelong friends catching up. Still breaking into a conversation can be intimidating. There are so many ways to do this, I will need a number of posts.

If you are going to an event where you are totally new and expect not to know a soul, try engaging the staff or board.

  1. Email before the event and ask a question or two. It can be anything from directions to what type of people usually come. When you arrive, ask the check in staff to point out the person you were emailing so you can introduce yourself and thank them for their help. It will be easier because you already have started a relationship by phone or email, and it is a good excuse to break in if the person is already talking to someone.
  2. Find the board members. If the person you were emailing is the person at the desk, then you need another option. They don’t have time to talk to you. Ask them to point out the board members or other leaders – a membership chair is good, they always want to talk to potential members. You can say “I’m new and Mary suggested I introduce myself to you.”
  3. Ask for an introduction. The board member should know many of the attendees, so use them to get you to a good prospect. Tell them briefly what you do and the type of people you hope to meet. Ask them if there is anyone there you should definitely meet. Every board member I have ever known will walk you right over and get the next conversation started.

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