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Posts Tagged ‘joining a group’

Lately I have had the opportunity to do some more focused networking. and have already noticed the difference. Attending a networking event where everyone in the room is a potential client offers significantly more potential for striking up a valuable conversation.

As noted by Chris Brogan in his recent post Get More Out of Conferences and Networking Events, at any event the questions of “…which of these are people you should connect with? Who here is a client? Who’s a future partner? Where are your new friends that you’ll keep in touch with in coming years?” make it hard to jump in.  Choosing your event carefully can make it so much easier.

At a broad networking event, say a Chamber, local business group or  a vertical organization (like gender, nationality or religion based) you will meet a wide variety of people. These are excellent venues to meet potential clients, referrers, partners, suppliers, and lunch partners. Over time and with a commitment to the group, relationships build that allows this to happen. Open groups are also excellent for practicing networking skills.

Targeted networking is about fishing where the highest concentrations of fish are. If you sell products or services to real estate agents, there may be a few at general networking events, but at the association of realtors meeting the room will be full of prospects. You probably can’t pick a bad seat. If you don’t meet the perfect prospect, you are still likely to learn something raises the value proposition of the event.

To find events right for you look at your target audiences. Even if you can work with anyone, defining a few core areas will improve your positioning and marketing effectiveness. Having a focus makes it easier to make decisions and respond to inquiries and more likely that you will be seen as a resource rather than a vendor when attending industry events. As an example, look at Gail Bower. Gail is a consultant who works with nonprofits handling many issues including marketing and event strategy. Within this area Gail has a special niche – she is a sponsorship expert. Where is Gail networking? Not at generic marketing or event planning groups, but at much more narrow events like a meeting of fundraising professionals or a group for festival planners. When she mentions she has solutions to sponsorship problems, I bet heads turn.

In the right room, Gail is a rock star. Where is your room? What do you know that a specific audience will think is gold?  Chances are there’s a group, meeting, conference or association where you can turn heads too. How do you find that room? Ask your current clients what associations or professional societies they belong to, research online and look for conferences where the speakers are talking about your niche. Go as an attendee the first time to make sure you are in the right place then move on to speaking, serving on a committee, providing a financial or in-kind donations and/or becoming a trade show vendor. Contributing your time and expertise to the right audience is an excellent way to build relationships that lead to speaking invitations, referrals and client engagements.


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Networking is hard enough without being in the wrong room. Choosing the right organizations, where you have the best chance of feeling comfortable, showing up and meeting great people is key. Some great tips come from Jill Walser in an article titled “How I Overcame My Aversion to Networking and Learned to Love It”:

I initially looked at about eight different options and decided that the organizations I chose needed to meet four criteria:
1. They needed to be relevant to what I did.
2. They needed to have a face-to-face component and the people there needed to be happy to see me.
3. They needed to be filled with spark plugs – people very excited to be there and to be doing what they did for a living.
4. They needed to be easy to get to and offered at convenient times.

And to make it fun, try Ilise Benun’s tip:

You can even use [your nametag] to ask a question about a resource you need (“Know any good designers?”) Make it funny or unusual. Others will notice and see it as an invitation into conversation.

From her excellent article “How Not To Network”. Scroll down and read all the comments, there are some great ideas.

Jamie Ridler‘s strategy is to think differently about what you are doing. In her article “Give up Networking and Grow” she says:

“I’m that woman at the networking meeting having one more cup of coffee just to have something to do (and trust me, more caffeine doesn’t improve the situation). As a business owner, I knew I couldn’t go on like this. I had to do something to grow my circle, and I wanted to do it in a way that was authentic and that felt good.”

There are so many great ideas for overcoming reluctance to get involved. Try some of these and see if there is a gem in there for you.

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There is nothing worse than being late to a sit-down event. If you ever had the weight of 30 eyes on you as you walk in to a room full of strangers, you know what I mean.

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of being invited to an exclusive event run by professional speaker, productivity expert and supreme networker, Neen James. It was a morning event downtown at the city club to which I belong. Excellent, I do that drive all the time and know where to park (a stresser in any city) and which back roads to take. Or so I thought.

This meeting started at 8:30 am, an hour later than then many morning networking events I have attended at the Club. I live and work a mile and a half apart in the suburbs, so I am not a seasoned commuter. Apparently, you can’t use 7:30 traffic as a guide for all rush hour traffic. To make matters worse, one reliable back road had a car accident, and it was trash day in the city – which I discovered when the trash truck trapped me two car lengths from where I had to turn into the garage.

Of course I wanted to turn around and forget it once I realized I was going to be embarrassingly late, but I did not want the hostess to regret inviting me. The challenge on a day like this is how to put the stress and embarrassment behind you and have a productive event. Some tips to get you back on track:

  • Take a minute. Take off your coat, check your hair, put on some lipstick (if appropriate) and take a breath. Flying into the room with a flustered apology only calls more attention to yourself.
  • Get settled. Scan for a seat, and get situated without fuss. If you think you’ll need a pen or a mint, make it accessible before entering the room.
  • Focus. You made it, don’t waste the effort. Turn your attention to the speaker and really pay attention.
  • Apologize later. Afterwards, if it was small enough of a gathering for the host to notice, make one sincere apology and limit the excuses.

You can still have a worthwhile networking day even with a bad start. I have three meetings set up already and a number of LinkedIn invites from an event that started badly. Don’t shrink into your shell, shake it off and do what you came for, you’ll be glad you made the effort.

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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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I am starting this blog for everyone who has ever walked into a room full of strangers with the intention of “networking” and wanted nothing more that to forget the $46 you just paid for lunch just to get out of there.

Most of my business can be traced back, one way or another, to networking. It’s been 12 years, and I am still in business, growing and adding employees, so I guess it works. But it is never easy, even for an extrovert like me.

There is so much written about networking, but most seems to talk about the sales side – how many people you should speak to, how to follow up, how to convert that meeting into an appointment, into a sale. Those are all really valuable things and should be focused on if you are going to use networking as a sales tool. Despite all this great info out there, what I keep hearing from people is “how do you DO that?”

Now, as I mentioned, I am an extrovert. If you have ever looked at a personality profile, like Myers-Briggs, I’m the one who scored a 19 out of 20 on the Extrovert vs Introvert scale. So it may be easier for me, I don’t know. I know I like to talk, especially in person. And when I started my business alone in the basement, showing up at a lunch with a bunch of strangers seemed a whole lot better than sitting alone in the basement.

When I started out I had never heard of networking. When I had a “regular” job I was expected to focus on what was inside the four walls, not outside. Once I liberated myself, I called all the people I knew and told them I was now “out on my own”. And the second day of business…I was reading the newspaper.  Surprisingly, this turned out to be the right thing to do. In the back of the local paper were these things called “Business Events”.  I found some kind of a local business women’s lunch and signed up. Little did I know I had learned my first lesson of networking – just go. Nothing can happen if you don’t show up. I had no idea what I was getting into, and most of the women at the lunch had blue hair and had been retired for years. I have no idea what the speaker was about or if I met anyone that day, but the next day someone from the group called me and asked if I had heard about another group. I hadn’t (of course) and signed up to go to something else. So I now had two things to do in a month. At the time, it was a really big deal. And at the second event – I knew one person.

And so my journey of networking started. I have developed a lot of tricks to help get through the social awkwardness over the years. I want to share them here, learn what struggles others have and hear about great ideas. My company is a marketing and design firm focused on strengthening membership organizations through encouraging participation. I believe that if people feel welcome, involved and included they stay in a group. That’s tough to do if folks won’t mingle. I hope to help everyone feel more comfortable jumping in.

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