The Art of Networking:
How to "Work" a Room

[Ilise Benun, self promotion expert and author, has written many articles about marketing and self-promotion and has been featured in national magazines such as Inc. Magazine, Nation's Business, Self, Essence, Crains New York Business, and Working Woman. She works closely with business owners and executives to teach them the "marketing mindset," which includes how to make connections with people, both in person and on the phone, plus how to fit their own self-promotion into their day-to-day lives. You can sign up for her Quick Online Marketing Tips at: http://www.artofselfpromotion.com/tips.html .]

There are tons of networking events to attend (too many, actually), too many ways to meet people you'll never see again, too many opportunities to collect a stack of business cards you'll never look at again. But networking is not a contest and it's not about schmoozing. The reason you go to those events is because it's one of the best possible ways to promote yourself and your business. Here are 13 tips to help you do it like a pro.

  1. Find low-key learning environments.

    Business-card exchanges and other networking events are high pressure situations where people go to meet others but usually do so with all their defenses intact. For more relaxed networking, find educational atmospheres, such as workshops and seminars, where the focus is on learning and where people's defenses are lower.

  2. Start conversations.

    Go out of your way to get into conversations with anyone and everyone you can, in person, on the phone, or via e-mail. Cross the street, cross the room, cross the train, to talk to someone. Find out what they're working on and tell them what you're working on. Anything can come out of a simple conversation: ideas, alliances, connections, referrals, new business, new opportunities.

  3. Make contact, not contacts.

    The goal of networking is not to meet as many people in as short a time as possible. The goal is to find a business community that satisfies your needs; one that brings together people who are your prospects and with whom you are comfortable. So if you attend an event, don't think you have to get to everyone in the room. Meet as many people as you can but also, if a conversation is going well, stay with it.

  4. Be a good listener.

    Don't be worried about what you're going to say. You don't need to perform your sales pitch, just have your blurbs ready to use as a tool to engage people in conversation. Do more listening than talking, and ask a lot of questions. Then, simply respond to what you hear. Answer questions, devise solutions, be creative. Sounds easy? Just try it.

  5. Arrive early.

    If you wait until most of the attendees are already there, many of them will already be in conversations and it won't be as easy to break in.

  6. Never sit with someone you know.

    Attend an event with a friend, but put on your nametags and then separate at the door. Otherwise, you will never meet anyone new.

  7. Look for wallflowers.

    Instead of trying to break into conversations that are already going, find someone sitting or standing alone and simply introduce yourself. Do it even if they don't look like they want to be approached. The apparent standoffishness may merely be a cover for their own discomfort.

  8. Use the food to begin conversations.

    Stand by the buffet and make recommendations to anyone who approaches about what's good (or bad).

  9. Keep going back to the buffet.

    Never put more than three bites on your plate. Take your plate to a crowded table, introduce yourself, talk (and listen) for 10-15 minutes, exchange cards, then excuse yourself to get up and get more food. (After all, your plate will be empty.) Repeat this until the room is empty. And don't forget that you can also talk to people in line at the buffet.

  10. Be random about where you sit.

    You can't tell by how someone looks what will come out of a conversation with them. Don't judge.

  11. Make notes about the people you meet.

    Every time someone gives you a card, make a point of writing a note on the back – while you're still talking. This will not only flatter, but you will have a much better chance of remembering what you talked about so that you can follow up in a more personal way.

  12. Wear a jacket with pockets.

    Keep your business cards and a pen in the left pocket and put any cards you get into the right pocket. That way, you won't be fumbling with cards or accidentally hand a new contact someone else's card.

  13. Wear an unusual accessory.

    Wear a colorful scarf or tie. Then, when you follow up, you can remind the contact who you are by referring to that accessory. ("I was the one with the orange scarf.")

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Published: October 20, 2003

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