Football season is here! The MLB will soon be in the Playoffs and basketball is about to start. Players in every sport are working on their Pre-Game, Game Time, and Post-Game routines, and so should you when it comes to attending a Networking event.  For many people, networking is a chore, a huge challenge. They’d rather be out walking the dog in a snow storm, or even working late at the office. Anywhere but at a networking event. All that small talk. All those awkward conversations. Having to answer over and over again, “so, what do you do?” It can almost feel like a first date!  

Most people do not find networking instinctual or natural. Sometimes feelings of insecurity arise when walking into a room with a sea of unfamiliar faces. Or, maybe you feel pressure to secure a new client! Let me be clear; networking is NOT about making the sale! That is one of the biggest mistakes people make; trying to sell something before getting to know the person. Networking is about building a relationship with someone, discovering if this is someone you want to get to know better, and being a resource for THEM!  

I fear that because of technology we are losing the art of conversation, and therefore “networking” is scary. We do not know how to simply talk to people anymore. We are always emailing, or texting, even if someone is sitting right next to us! Do not lose that skill. Small talk, like any other skill, can be learned. Sometimes it’s the most important conversation between two people who do not know one another. It’s about starting a conversation, knowing how to keep it going, creating a bond and making a connection with someone. The most successful people in business are the ones who are the most connected. That means internally and externally.

Attending a networking event is one thing. Making the most of it is another. I call it my Pre-Game, Game Time, and Post Game plan. Here are a few tips to get you started:

Pre-Game: Have an objective, and do your homework. Who do you need to reconnect with, or who else is going to be there that you should be meeting? Plan ahead. Most organizations will happily share an attendees list with you. You simply need to ask.  And, get there early.  

Game-Time: Look the part, and walk into the room with confidence. Do not stand in the corner. Make eye contact, have a warm smile on your face, and a strong handshake.   Challenge yourself to look for others who may be standing by themselves and be brave enough to strike up a conversation with them. Some of my most favorite people I’ve ever met at a networking event came from such encounters. Remember to use the other person’s name often and be a good listener. Find out what business challenges they may be facing and then become a resource and a connector for them. Conversations that don’t lead to direct business may lead indirectly to business by referrals. You never know who they may know.

Post-Game: What you can do for people means nothing until you take action.  Follow-up is key. If you’re not following up, you’re not networking. Reconnect in the first 24-48 hours either by email, LinkedIn, text, or with a good old fashioned phone call!   Make a personal reference to something you talked about with them, invite them to attend an event with you, send them a link to an article you think would be of interest, invite them to speak on their subject matter, and if you can, connect them to another resource. Your reputation will rise dramatically as a connector.  

So, before you attend your next networking event, have your Pre-Game, Game-Time and Post-Game plan. Doing so will ensure it’s not a waste of time, or a missed opportunity.

(Brunner Communications offers Networking Workshops with extensive information on the Pre-Game, Game-Time and Post-Game approach. Let us know if you would like to secure this workshop for your team.)