I like to think I’m a socially savvy person, particularly when it comes to business etiquette. However, I recently committed a networking event blunder amidst an exhausting few days where I was juggling too many projects and wasn’t on my A-Game. But, no excuses. As a mentor told me years ago, “A pro is at her best, regardless.”
What happened? I was invited to a foreign embassy event by a neighbor. The formal invitation came through an official embassy staff person and I excitedly accepted. My first mistake was assuming the affair was more social networking than business. Thoughts of what outfit to wear overshadowed possible business opportunities I might spark and what value I could bring to the person who invited me.
Did I contact my neighbor to strategize before walking into the embassy hall? No. And this simple slip caused me to work the room not realizing that I should have downplayed the social relationship between my neighbor and me and, instead, touted our respective areas of business expertise. The light bulb went off on my faux pas during the drive home as my host lamented how I told one of his top-ranking embassy officials that I was his—ahem— neighbor. In the end, we both got a good laugh.
In the spirit of learning from my mistakes and using them to help others, here are four tips for solid success at business networking events:
Strategize with your Host Beforehand – If you are invited as someone’s guest to an event (like I was) always ask about their intended outcome for the gathering and if there is anything you can do to help. I showed up at the embassy event conveying to others that I was there as a guest of my neighbor. In the end, I realized that he didn’t want me telling people about our personal connection. This could have been totally prevented had I spent ten minutes beforehand getting clear on how he would like me to present myself and how I could help him during the mixing and mingling.
Brief your Guests – Turning around pointer number one, if you invite guests to a networking event, clearly express your desired outcomes before walking into the room. Don’t assume they will take the perfect approach, even if your guests are seasoned professionals. For example, if you want your invitees to introduce you or themselves in a certain way, say so prior to entering the networking space. If you intend to plant seeds for new business or land a meeting with a certain attendee, lay out who's who so others can work the room on your behalf and you can do likewise.
Focus on Others – Most people love the opportunity to talk about themselves, but rarely have the chance to do so. Typically, when you meet someone at a networking event the first thing they will ask is, “What do you do?” I cannot stress the importance of having a catchy, concise response, but once you are done with your professional elevator pitch turn the focus away from yourself and start asking about the other person. Show genuine interest in making a connection. Don’t dominate anyone’s time. A five- to ten-minute conversation, max, is a good standard. Then exchange business cards and move on.
Follow Up – Always thank the person who invited you to the event, and thank the host as well if they are not the same person. A handwritten note on business stationery is a classy touch. However, a well-crafted email will suffice. And if you made a particular connection with anyone you spoke with and would like to keep the conversation going, reach out within a week and set a time for coffee or a meal.
To yield success in business, we want to continually cultivate our networking abilities. Maneuvering a room of people who all have their own agendas can be complicated and even unnerving at times. However, put these four recommendations into practice with your next business networking event and see for yourself how they boost positive results.
Kathleen DuBois is Managing Director of Progressity, Inc., which specializes in Strategic Roadmapping™, Leadership Development, Intentional Marketing and Nonprofit Philanthropy. Visit Progressity.com for more information and resources.