Business networking has been a concept since the later half of the twentieth century and was started to help businessmen build their social capital. Soliciting references for new business possibilities and building mutually beneficial business relationships has been the core of business networking from the 2000s in the Americas.
Even though the concept has grown far and wide, the paradigm of networking has remained the same for years. As attendees or delegates to a business networking event, the rules of the game are more or less the same. And to make the most of the initiative, let’s begin by doing these simple things:
1. Learning the theme and purpose of the networking event
Networking events are of great value for those who are prepared. Now, this does not just mean being equipped by business cards and sporting the best look. It does mean that you have to know what the purpose of the event is. Let’s take the example of a Social Media Conference. You would find knowledgeable veterans from the social media marketing space or those who want to learn more about it. However, if you do not read up on the basics and ask relevant questions, you would never be able to make best use of the availability of subject matter experts in the conference.
A search for articles or videos online to get accustomed with the basics and some jargons would give you more leverage when you are interacting with someone who knows a lot. Curiosity certainly helps, considering the knowledgeable people at the conference would be glad to share insights. However, they would rather spend their precious time talking to people who have some knowledge, than teaching the basics to someone totally ignorant.
2. Being aware of who will come to the event
Most events would have an agenda and a speaker list. The least you could do is to read up on what the various topics mean to your business or work and what the expertise of every speaker is. This would also give you a fair idea on who would the audience of this speaker’s session be and what kind of challenges they might have.
Apart from reading up on the topics, it is helpful to also interact with the speakers or the audience, way ahead of the event and fix meetings with people you see you can either learn from or do business with. Initial introductions by connecting on professional networking websites like LinkedIn, following conversations they might be part of on Twitter and reading up latest news about them on news websites would prepare the ground for you to start an interaction with them. Once the conversations online become interesting, the speaker/subject matter expert will be more keen to meet and spend time with you.
3. Being genuinely interested in other attendees
Source: Dale Carnegie quotes on Pinterest
It’s one thing to do it as an exercise and another to be genuinely interested in forging relationships. As Dale Carnegie says, “You can make more friends in two months by being interested in them, than in two years by making them interested in you”. Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People (Gallery: New York, 1998) 52.
Being genuinely interested in the people you wish to meet and learn from is important for you to save your time and theirs. The conversations should be about giving away something small that you know about them, tying it into relevance and creating an impact by making absolute sense to them. And you could also recite the situations you had been in and how their help could have saved you the day. And remember, you are not faking it here, you are keen to see what they would advise to help you out.
4. Start with positive response questions
Start with questions to which the other person will answer YES. Now why is this so important? Simply because we all like positive conversations. And when you simply make things positive for others, others respect you more.
For instance, if you ask a speaker talking on Marketing, “Would you be highlighting some of the latest trends in Marketing?”, chances are, he would have thought about it and he would answer in affirmation. If he had not thought about it, he would look at it as a great suggestion and nod to only address it as an addition to his talk. This would not only make you one of the rather interesting people in his eyes, you would also be taken seriously as you are seen as someone who respects his points of view.
It’s best to not emphasize the aspects in which the both of you might differ. “A drop of honey can catch more flies than a gallon of gall”. Dale Carnegie. How to Win Friends and Influence People (New York: Gallery, 1998) 143.
As much as it’s important to make connections, it’s equally important to retain them. Knowing more about the people you wish to have a long lasting relationship with will only make the bond stronger and the outcomes more beneficial to both.