Even introverts must dip their feet in the networking pool eventually. After all, as we discuss in our report 3 Common Habits That Bite into Startup Profits, relying on too few clients is a big gamble.
There are dozens of networking opportunities out there at any given time, but like many things, what you get out of these events depends on what you put in. Master the art of going to the right places, talking to the right people, and asking the right questions and your future as a networking rock star awaits.
3 Questions to Help You Choose an Event
Before you decide where to go, figure out what you want to accomplish. Are you looking for specific people to sell to? Advice from industry leaders? Potential partners?
Once you know your objective,
communications expert and owner of
Effective Training & Communication, Inc.
, says to ask yourself, “Who do you need to meet / talk with to accomplish your objectives? Who are your targets of opportunity?”
Go where they are, he says.
How do you know if the people you want to talk to will be at the event? Here’s a little advice: “Most events publish previous attendee lists as well as a list of those who registered for the event,” says
investment director at
CIT Gap Funds. “If a list isn’t published, event staff will often provide the names of companies and their representatives attending if asked.”
6 Questions to Break the Ice
Once you’re at the event, it's time to start mingling. It's natural to feel a little shy, but make sure you put yourself out there and talk. That's the whole reason you're there!
As far as breaking the ice goes,
Alisa Cohn (@AlisaCohn), an
executive coach based in New York City with experience helping tech startups, suggests you ask these questions to get the conversation going:
- What brings you here tonight?
- Do you know anyone else here?
- How did you find out about this event?
- What are you hoping to get out of this event?
- What do you do?
- Where are you from?
4 Questions for After the Introduction
After you’ve broken the ice, you want to get to know the person you’re talking to. Cohn says you can try to move into a more adventurous direction with these questions:
- What are some of your interests outside of work?
- Has anything happened to you in the last week or month that really surprised you, either personally or professionally?
- What are some of your top personal or professional goals for this year? How can I help you achieve them?
- What kinds of people do you want to meet? Maybe I can connect you!
Those last two questions are especially important. If you want people to remember who you are, you have to give them a reason.
“Even if it sounds cliché, remember it's not what people can do for you, it's what you can do for them,” says O’Daniel. “Ask them what keeps them up at night and help them solve it. Offer to introduce them to people in your network who provide products or services they may need.”
For more tips on impressing new contacts, check out Want More IT Consulting Jobs? 4 Tips for Impressing Potential Clients.
1 Question to Ensure Follow-Up
You've made it this far, so it’s time to seal the connection.
“At the end of a short conversation, ask, 'May I give you my card so we can keep in touch?'” says Stella.
After the networking event, follow up with a quick note to tell your new connection you enjoyed the conversation, says Cohn. “Specifically call out one thing that was unique to the discussion, such as ‘I appreciated your point of view about VR’ or ‘I can't believe we are both from Kansas!’” she says.
Then find a way to remind yourself to touch base with that person two or three times a year, Cohn suggests. For example, you might…
- Send them articles that are relevant to their work.
- Follow their company and send a quick note when you see it in the news.
- Respond if update their skills or post new content on LinkedIn.
You can even send them resources, such as our customer education packet on data security.
Networking isn’t a one-and-done deal. You have to keep the relationships alive. So even if your new connection doesn’t pan out in a meaningful way at first, it could have big results later on if you stay in touch.
About the Contributors
Alisa Cohn is an executive coach who helps her clients set more powerful goals and achieve them. She works with successful executives and other high-potential leaders and managers, and her clients get a rigorous coaching process focused on their success and results. The process has been honed with 20 years of coaching and corporate experience, significant research, and Cohn's connections with many of the world's experts in coaching.
Jennifer O’Daniel leads seed and early-stage investments in tech companies for CIT GAP Funds. She is also the co-founder and managing director of VT Investor Network (VTIN), a 75+ member angel group that invests in Hokie-led startups. O’Daniel currently sits on the board of directors for The Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council and The Richmond Venture Forum, the board of advisors for Foster.ly, and is a mentor for Founder's Institute.
Phil Stella is the founder of Effective Training & Communication, Inc., a communications consulting and training company in Cleveland, Ohio. For more than 22 years, he has empowered business leaders to communicate more confidently and credibly, which takes the pain out of workplace interactions and sales presentations. He is also on the Cleveland Faculty of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Initiative.