Guide: Networking in Sacramento
By Aimee Darville
When I started networking for my company three years ago I was anxious, nervous, fidgety, [insert synonym for scared here].
I wouldn’t call myself shy, but meeting new people had never been my strong suit. It didn’t help that I was often the only person under 40 in the room, at least until I joined Metro EDGE and flipped that paradigm! I was thrown into the deep end of marketing luncheons, receptions in the Rotunda and referral roundtables (think speed dating for business). It was sink or swim so I gained the skills of introduction, like just saying hello in order to stay afloat and bring our business to new shores.
Ok, enough with the swimming analogies, I’ve honed some tips through trial and error and people watching that I thought I would share.
Preparing for an Event:
DO YOUR RESEARCH. Maximize your potential for success by attending events where your target clients already are. Identify the dominant organizations in your target’s industry or area. Just google your industry with “Sacramento professional association.” From advertising to social media, you’ll be pleasantly surprised how many local groups are out there. Some events post an RSVP list on the event website or Facebook. Not sure if the event is worth it? Check the attendees for possible connections.
BE PREPARED. Bring more business cards than you think you need and a pen. You may need it to write notes and offering a pen to someone is a great way to start a conversation.
BE READY. Have a 30 second elevator pitch on what your company does and your role. Practice until it doesn’t sound rehearsed and keep the “jargon” to a minimum. Unless you’re talking to a colleague pretend like you’re explaining your job to your grandma.
DRESS APPROPRIATELY. This means more than business professional attire. Think about the event and what attendees will be wearing (i.e. a legal luncheon will be more formal than a PR mixer where jeans and a blazer or a cute shift are the norm). This will help you feel like you belong, even if you don’t know anyone there. Note for young professionals, it is better to overdress than underdress. Established professionals in the area know each other and may not think you have much to contribute, don’t give them ammunition.
During the Event:
WORK THE ROOM. Find an excuse like food tasting, a restroom trip or to check out different corners. It’s all about location, location, location!
TRY THE FOOD, EASY ON THE BOOZE. It will at least give you something to do and talk about. DO NOT stand near the food or with a plate of food all night. When your mouth is full and you can’t shake hands you are not as approachable. And DO NOT make a negative comment on the food. You never whose husband the caterer is and complaining never makes a good first impression. Also, people may assume you’ll talk negatively about them later, it’s a no win situation. Stick to a maximum of one drink an hour or none if that is what is normal for you. Alcohol can be the extra social lubrication needed to introduce yourself to a new group, but losing your inhibitions in a professional environment is a recipe for disaster.
HAVE NO FEAR. Don’t be afraid to approach someone, even if you don’t remember their name. If you remember anything about them (where they work, where you met) give it a shot and say hello. Be honest, chances are they might not remembers yours either.
ASK QUESTIONS. Curious about that someone said? Find out more. Networking should be 75% getting information and 25% giving information. People naturally like to talk about themselves so be a good listener! Think strategically while listening to what people do, if there is anyone you now there that could be a worthwhile introduction for them. Read name badges surreptitiously if possible before approaching a person to see if they are a likely fit for your business and the most of your time. CAUTION not to be attempted by amateur networkers as you must read their badge before your eyes are caught lingering. If you’re caught, say hello or you will look rude.
FOLLOW-UP. The new connections you made are only as good as your follow up. Don’t wait for the other person to email you, especially if you are trying to get their business. Follow-up the next day! It can be short and sweet and ideally include a personal note from the meeting. Not good at remembering details after a glass of wine? Write down a word or phrase on the back of your card about your conversation on their so when you follow-up it won’t sound like a template email.
JUST SAY HELLO. When your gaze meets another guest’s just say hello. You’re both at a networking mixer to meet new people. Just say hi!
“CAN YOU INTRODUCE ME TO _____?” Do you know someone whose talking to someone you would like to meet? Just ask them to introduce you! If you’re not comfortable asking just join their group and a round of group introductions will likely be made.
“ISN’T THE FOOD DELICIOUS? When you’re eating or plating up commenting on your favorite dish is a great ice breaker, especially if you’re joining a table. DO NOT make a negative comment on the food.
“GREAT TO SEE YOU AGAIN!” Always say hello to people you’ve met before, if only briefly. There’s a good chance they’ll be just as relieved to see a familiar face as you and luckily, most mixers provide name tags so you needn’t worry about remembering their name! Also, you never know who they might be able to introduce you to.
SMILE, SMILE, SMILE. I make an effort to smile while networking. You may not always need to start a conversation, allowing others to approach you is just as important as speaking to someone else. Also I’ve been told I have bitchy resting face, seriously it’s a thing check out the video.
“HOW ARE YOU DOING?” Waiting in line is not a waste of time when the purpose of an event is to meet people. You’re standing next to each other so you might as well say hello or ask how they are. Just don’t say it like Joey Tribbianni!
“I DON’T WANT TO TAKE UP ALL YOUR TIME – I’M SURE YOU’RE HERE TO MAKE NEW CONNECTIONS.” Extricating yourself from a codependent networker can be tricky, so put the onus on them and wait for a natural break in conversation.
“WOULD YOU EXCUSE ME? I JUST SAW A COLLEAGUE ARRIVE.” When you really need to exit a conversation, give this a try. Whether you saw an old friend or not relocate to a different area and acknowledge the person you were speaking to later on in the event.
[INSERT COMMENT ON THE VENUE, ENTERTAINMENT, PRIZES, DECOR] You think you have nothing in common with anyone at this mixer? Think again, you are all here experiencing this evening so talk about the way the mixer looks, sounds or is hosted. These are great neutral topics that give everyone a chance to pipe up.
“HAVE YOU MET _____?” Introducing others is an easy way to demonstrate that you are not only there to get business connections for yourself. When you see a potential business connection between colleagues, present or not, speak up. ‘I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine’ holds true in business and though it may not be reciprocated right away or ever helping grow others’ networks will only grow yours as well.
That about does it – what are your tips and strategies for maximizing (and enjoying) networking events?