Networking Your Way to Business Executives and Clients
By Nouf Alkhaja
At some point in time, you will be asked to attend a gathering of some form. Such gatherings promote strong ongoing professional business and personal relationships. You need to be able to demonstrate professional networking, social, presentation and communication skills when interacting with other business people.
Networking is a very effective and productive marketing tool if used wisely. It is the key to building strong lasting relationships and a profitable business.
Walking into a business meeting, networking event or social function may seem exciting to some, but overwhelming to others. By mastering some key networking, social, communication and presentation skills, you may develop and expand your social and professional networks with ease.
To maintain your professional image and business identity, here are some tips to follow when socializing with others at a networking event:
- Prepare for the event in advance: research suitable events to attend and note them in your calendar. Define your networking goals and target group. Prepare a set of business cards to take with you and an effective elevator speech that summarizes what you do. Some organizations list the attendees who will be attending their events. Go through the list in advance and identify who you would like to meet. You should also develop and update your profile.
- Build meaningful relationships: walk into the meeting room, seminar lounge, convention center or conference hall with realistic expectations rather than idealistic ones. You will not be talking to all of the attendees. Instead, interact with those of similar or relevant businesses to you. You are there to establish contacts that will further your career, not collect a stack of business cards to keep.
- Find new people: we naturally attend any form of gatherings with someone we know or look for anyone we know once we arrive to feel more comfortable since people do not usually feel at ease around new people. Try to spend time engaging in discussions with people you do not know.
- Network with professionals within your industry and beyond: it is good practice to spend time networking with others within the relevant industry, other areas of interests and fields of specialization. After all, potential clients who bring business come from different industries. Other colleagues within the relevant industry may also bring business as you may team up with them on projects, enter into partnerships or outsource work to each other during busy times. Networking with others will keep you current with the latest trends and recent developments in different industries.
- Introduce yourself to others: avoid just sticking around waiting for someone to introduce themselves to you or introduce you to others. Look around the room for people you may be interested to talk to. Walk up to them, introduce yourself and start making small general talks. Be calm, competent and confident. Here is your chance to demonstrate your presentation skills. You may even ask others to be introduced to someone you think is interesting.
- Get to know others to break the ice: engage in interactional conversations about the country’s history, culture, business, education, etc. to build trust, communication and connection. Avoid very critical or sensitive topics.
- Interact and react: listen carefully and attentively to what others are saying to you. Respond appropriately to make a good impression. Be present. Repeating certain information such as the person’s name or summarizing what they do indicates your attention to details. Avoid appearing bored. Avoid bragging about yourself or your business. You are there to get to know others and their business. Be yourself. Give constructive feedback, ask relevant questions, respond clearly and give useful answers. Share knowledge, experience and expertise openly. Engage in active discussions. Exchange business cards.
- Make your way into a group: approach a group and get involved in the conversation. Make small, casual and light talks to avoid offending anyone or ruling them out of discussions.
- Make your way out of a group: while you are expected to give the person you are talking to your full attention, you are not expected to spend the whole time talking to one particular person only. After a reasonable time has lapsed, politely move out of a group. Wrap up the conversation by summarizing their business to demonstrate your understanding of what they do, exchanging business cards and expressing that you are looking forward to getting in touch. If it is difficult to leave a group, you may indicate that you need to talk to someone or see if someone you are expecting has arrived.
- Follow-up: once the event is over, follow-up with those you have mingled with at the event. You may jot down what you have discussed with each person to refresh your memory. This will make your letter to them more personalized. Also, others will appreciate the fact that you have noted all of the relevant information about them. While, following-up with a phone call is ideal, you may not be able to catch up with all of your contacts.
- Maintain good relationships with everyone: at crowded events, it is quite difficult to anticipate where every conversation will head as one topic may lead to another. You may find that some discussions may not seem worth your time, attention and effort. However, that particular person may open doors to new profitable business or personal relationships, so keep the lines of communication open. Offer support and guidance without expecting anything in return. By doing so, you leave a good professional impression on others, which will lead to new business contacts.