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Networking and Connecting People, Not Computers

For some, the idea of meeting new people is nerve-racking and makes them sweat. I find it exhilarating. My back story as a military brat may have something to do with that fact. You see, I moved a lot as a kid. Meeting new people and making friends came with the territory. I can talk to anybody. For me, making new friends and meeting new people was a method of survival. As an adult working in marketing and business development, I’ve really been able to hone those skills I acquired in my childhood.

In a business environment, I’ve found that meeting and connecting with people can be fun ... and also bit frustrating at times. Communication is undoubtedly the key element, but there are a few rules of engagement I’d like to share. These networking do’s and don’ts have proven successful for me, and I hope they will for you, too.

Do your homework. Sometimes you get a glimpse of who’s attending an event beforehand. I have unabashedly investigated people and companies on LinkedIn prior to an event. This helps steer you into gaining good connections versus spending time with folks you may not want to do business with.

Do arrive early. I try to arrive 10 to 15 minutes before the event starts so I can scope out the venue. Position yourself near the front middle of the room for optimal exposure. Go where the horde is congregating.

Do present yourself well. Posture, smile, and presence is key. We’ve all heard the phrase “a smile that lit up the room.” Guess who’s doing well at that networking event? The one who’s never fully dressed without a smile. I’m a sucker for a killer smile—it shows someone is approachable and inviting. Be aware of your body language. Don’t cross your arms in front of you or exude any posturing that conveys a negative stance. Use a mirror to practice your open, inviting stance.

Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself. You probably already have an elevator pitch for your company—make one for yourself, too. Practice your introduction until you’re comfortable enough to give it to anyone. And make it clever and memorable. I’ll often introduce myself by saying, “Hi, I’m Brandy.” And the person usually responds with “Randy? Sandy?” My response is, “I’m Brandy, just like the alcohol.” It’s a unique way to get someone to remember my name.

Do enlist a wingman or wingwoman. Did Dorothy go down the yellow brick road by herself? Heck no. She knew there is power in the pack. If I’m new to a networking group, I find a board member or senior person within the group to help introduce me around. I’ll boldly ask, “Can you introduce me to anyone? I’m new to this group.” Be sure to follow up afterward with a big thank you.

Don’t be boring and ask stereotypical questions like, “What do you do at Company X?” Think outside the box. “I wonder if we’re having rubber chicken tonight. What do you think is on the menu?” Ask open ended-questions to which the answer can’t be just yes or no.

Do actively listen. We all need to learn to listen to understand, not listen to respond. Comprehend what someone is trying to convey. Look into his/her eyes, and at their body language as a sign of interest.

Don’t take over the conversation. Don’t interrupt or be impatient. Pause, pay attention, and use active listening skills. Be focused on understanding, not responding. Also listen without trying to fix—most people just want to be heard and get their point across. I’ll often summarize what I’ve heard as a way to show them I’m paying attention.

Do spill the beans. It’s okay to share personal info as a means to create rapport. But set boundaries. No one wants to hear the details of your prostate exam.

Don’t turn the conversation into a hard sell—there’s nothing worse than a sharky salesperson. The goal is to develop rapport or create a common interest. Unless they are genuinely interested in hearing more about your company after your pitch, steer clear of that conversation.

Don’t limit yourself to connecting with just one person. Time is money, so use yours wisely. If someone is monopolizing your time, excuse yourself, and promise to connect at a later time. Even better, ask them to join you in working the room.

Do follow up, follow through, and keep in touch. My biggest pet peeve is when someone goes to a tradeshow and makes seemingly great connections, then goes back to the office and does nothing—no call, no social, no email. Why? You are letting money and prospects slip through your fingers. At the very least send a generic email, but better yet, send something personal. Follow through with information you promised to send them, and keep in touch. I try to reach out at least quarterly. You’d better believe that if you don’t stay “sticky and relevant” in their minds, your competitor will!

Don’t be deterred by rejection. Rejection can come in many forms—lack of eye contact or non-verbal cues at the event, or ignoring post-event follow-ups. It’s okay, it happens. Move on and stay open to new ideas.

Do get social. Connect with your new associates on LinkedIn with a clever note about where you met. If my new friend has a Twitter, I follow her and ensure I comment on relevant tweets. If she’s new to the industry, I’ll introduce her to my community of #AVTweeps to help her develop a social presence with other AV professionals.

Don’t forget to pay it forward. Connect people who you think have a common business purpose. By facilitating new relationships, you are making yourself “sticky and relevant.” You’re putting yourself in the position to be the first one somebody calls when they need a resource—never out of sight, always on their minds.

I find networking to be rewarding on a number of fronts; I’ve gained so much knowledge from people I’ve connected with over the years. My advice: use networking as an opportunity to educate yourself about new ideas. Maybe you’re looking for career opportunities, maybe you’re looking to expand your knowledge base, or maybe you’re just looking for new friends in the AV industry—networking can help with all of those things. Consider these tips on your next networking adventure, and let me know if you’re seeing more success in connecting. Lastly, shoot me a line—let’s connect!