Updated: Nov 15, 2019
Is there anything quite as awkward as walking into a hotel lounge or a coffee shop knowing that the goal of everyone in the room is to promote themselves, you included? Who do you approach first? How do you make a pitch without being pushy? Then you chat up a stranger about something completely random and think, "Do I really have to talk about myself and promote my business?" Yes. That's why you're there. Through a good bit of trial error, and some personal branding knowledge, I no longer dread networking and now live for that first handshake at a networking happy hour. So if that isn't you, let's dive in and get you some practical tools to feel more confident about going to that event that you RSVP'd on Facebook to.
Set an Intention prior to the event
Contrary to what you may have thought, networking is not just for making more professional contacts; it can help level up your business in ways you can't predict. Let's say you own a bakery, and you already have a great brick and mortar customer base, but you're looking to cater more corporate events and diversify revenue. Ask, how does this networking event serve that purpose? Rather than pushing your brick and mortar store and your vast variety of products, think of how you can offer value to the people you meet at the networking event. What materials do you need to bring and what outcomes do you hope to achieve? Corporate contacts for events? A larger email list for your upcoming promotions? If you aim nowhere, you'll go nowhere. Set your goals prior to the event, and use that intention to guide your conversations.
Write a great opening line
You don't have to be a natural writer to craft a great opening line. Chances are, the other event attendees feel just as awkward as you do. Writing an opening line does two things:
1. Having a go-to line makes you more confident and ready for the most cringe-worthy part of the event: making the approach. How would your last event have been better if you had known exactly what to say when you shook their hand?
2. Preparation shows. You will not only make other attendees more comfortable by being able to approach with confidence, but you will appear prepared and professional.
My go-to line is always, "Hi, I'm Michelle Taylor. *they introduce themselves* What is your favorite thing about what you do?"
Promoting yourself just feels a little....icky, doesn't it? Would you feel as uncomfortable if someone was telling you about their problem and you were offering a solution? Offering value instead of a sales pitch is the best way to connect on a deeper level with your audience and banish that gross feeling of self-centered promotion. If you're speaking to a realtor, do they need a place to meet clients that's quiet? If so, you could offer meeting space if you have a brick and mortar. Does a realtor or photographer need gifts for their clients once the service is complete? How could you offer a great value to them? Rather than focusing on self-promotion, focus on value offered to each individual you meet. You won't feel awkward, because rather than pushing your business, you're asking, "How can I serve you?"
Lead with Asking Questions
If you spend the entire conversation trying to get someone to understand you and what you do, you'll likely leave empty-handed. What people remember is the feeling of being understood. If you can ask about what they do, their obstacles, and why they do it, they're much more likely to invest in you and your business beyond a chat at a networking event.
A Few More Tips
Wear One Memorable Piece
In a sea of faces, I always ask myself how I am going to stand out. One experiment that has proven fruitful has been wearing one memorable piece, whether it be a unique blazor, a hat, or a bold lip color. I can't tell you how many times I've heard when following up with a lead, "Oh yeah, you're the girl with the red beret."
Bring something to hold
This is a simple tip, but if you're struggling with the confidence to basically cold call in person (networking) then this is a pro tip for you. I always bring a clutch instead of a purse, and it's not because I just travel light. Having something to hold takes away feeling awkward with my hands, making me more confident.
Carry more business cards than you could possibly need
Take it from a girl who once ran out of business cards 15 minutes into an event and lost a big opportunity from seeming unprepared and unprofessional. Bring as many business cards as you can possibly carry on your person.
Have a networking event coming up? Try out these techniques and let me know how they work for you by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org or commenting below. Thank you for reading!