I just returned from SxSWi, a live conference on interactive media and I had the opportunity to attend some great panel discussions on entrepreneurship as well as meet some of my all-time favorite business bloggers.
The 5-day conference was intense and exciting and now my brain is overflowing with tons of ideas from all the talks I attended and the people I met.
I also had the wonderful privilege of meeting many software entrepreneurs like Zainab Zaki, (she likes to be called Z) a recent MBA graduate from the University of Texas at Austin (entrepreneurship track) who recently launched TappedIn, a platform that helps conference goers strategically connect with other attendees.
Z is on a mission to help conference goers become better at schmoozing by helping them become more strategic in the way they connect with one another at live conferences. She asked if I could give her some tips on the topic of networking. So, I thought I’d share them with you too.
- Even though we live in a digital age of online relationships, nothing is more powerful than connecting and communicating in person. Meeting in person gives you the opportunity to build, cultivate, and strengthen key relationships.
- Find out who is attending the conference beforehand by using tools like Plancast, Eventbrite, or Meetup.
- Be intentional about who you want to connect with at the conference and come up with a plan on how you are going to meet that person, especially if you are going to be introducing yourself to that individual for the first time.
- Know beforehand what you are going to say to him/her, especially if you are going to be asking them for something. If possible, role play with another person to prepare for the conversation.
- Take action on your plan. Oftentimes, it can be intimidating introducing yourself to people whom you perceive as highly influential and busy, especially if you are an introvert and not comfortable in social settings. But the truth is that you need to overcome your fears and take action on building strategic relationships. If you truly have something of value to offer someone, make sure they understand (give them a reason to listen to you) what it is.
- Always come from a place of giving first and asking second. People are more likely to say yes if you’ve already helped them first. Find out what it is they need and help them get it.
- Always follow-up with a “It was great meeting you.” email or even more powerful, a hand-written note card (assuming you have their physical address). Everyone receives email nowadays, but rare is the hand-written thank you note card that arrives via snail mail.
- If there is not enough time to meet with your “strategically targeted” conference attendee then invite them to meet you another time for coffee/tea or wine/beer, but be sure to pick up the tab as a courtesy to them for taking time out of their busy schedule to meet with you. A small gesture of paying for a cup of coffee can go a long way in the world of schmoozing. It’s not that it should be expected, but it makes a huge impact when it is done.
- Be adaptable and flexible. Things may not always go as planned and people don’t always react the way you had hoped. If you can adjust to unexpected changes you will be much better off and regroup a lot quicker.
- Be patient and persevere. If you don’t connect at first, try again another time. Meaningful business relationships take time to build. Never come across as desperate. No one likes doing business with desperate people. Eventually, your patience and perseverance will pay off.
Over the years, I’ve witnessed thousands of social business settings where people engage from the most awkward approach to the most graceful exit. However, networking is an art and a skill that can be developed over time by paying attention, watching others and by practicing. Mistakes are inevitable and saying things you wish you could take back will happen, but don’t let that stop you from building, connecting, and cultivating key relationships that are important to you and your business.
One final bonus tip: When in doubt. Always be yourself. No one likes a poser. Authenticity and transparency goes a lot further than pretending to be someone you are not.
What schmoozing techniques did I leave out? Can you add more networking tips to the comments below?