Tips for getting more out of in-person networking events.
Do you hate going to networking events? You're not alone -- most people do.
It's certainly not easy to strike up a conversation with strangers. Nor is it easy to figure out who your best prospects are in a crowded room.
In other words, networking can be a real hit-or-miss affair fraught with anxiety and frustration.
Yet, in a tough economy, making a personal connection by meeting people face-to-face is vital.
Luckily, I've been finding that e-mail makes the whole process so much easier and enjoyable. Here are some tips you can try.
Use the Buddy System
There are a gazillion networking events you can attend in any given month. But luncheons, which typically run from 11:45 a.m. to 2 p.m., can be a productivity killer -- especially when you factor in travel time -- unless you end up meeting the right kind of prospects while you're there. So before you invest those precious hours in an event, send around an e-mail to your contacts in the field and find out what they think about it and who they think might show up.
If someone recommends an event, find out if they're going -- and then arrange to meet up beforehand. I've found that attending an event with a buddy makes the whole process so much more pleasurable. Rather than standing alone like a wallflower, desperately scanning for someone to talk with, you can joke around with your friend -- and invite people to join in the fun. In no time at all, you'll be laughing your heads off with a convivial group of colleagues.
Broadcast Your Schedule
If you know you're going to attend an event next week, get the word out now. Post a note on your LinkedIn profile telling your circle of colleagues where you're going to be and expressing your interest in connecting.
And while you're on LinkedIn, post your schedule on TripIt -- so that other colleagues who will be in town on the same day know you'll be nearby. Who knows, maybe you can get together with them before or after the event?
You can also use your e-mail signature line to let the people you correspond with on a daily basis about the events you're planning to attend. Try something like, "I'm going to XYZ event this week. If you're going, let me know and we'll meet up."
Once you make a commitment to a certain networking group, see if it has a LinkedIn group. Then join that group and take part in online discussions and post your articles and work products.
I've made wonderful connections with people that way, and generally, I find that you attract people who share your point of view -- which leads to mutually satisfying colleague and client relationships.
Stay in Touch
These days, when I attend an event and exchange business cards with colleagues, I ask them if they would like to receive my e-newsletter. This has created a wonderful way to stay in touch.
Here's what usually happens: I send my new contacts my weekly e-newsletter -- which also features my picture. They, of course, now know my face and tend to read the first issue -- and often send me a nice note of thanks. We then arrange a time to talk on the phone to explore ways that we can help each other. Typically, I find that these new friends refer me to other colleagues -- and vice versa.
Then, here's the absolute greatest part: the next time I attend an event for that group, everyone comes up to me to say hello. So those big, scary networking events are now a warm, intimate circle of friends.
Keep the Flow of Conviviality Going
Networking is about giving as well as getting. So be sure to try to help out the people you meet at events in any way you can. I've helped many other vendors make connections with my clients and continue to do so whenever possible. As a result, my professional circle has become a critical resource that I can consult by e-mail (sometimes even when I'm on a client conference call!) whenever I need advice in a particular area of expertise.
Give Beyond What People Expect
One fun thing I did last holiday season was to add a small gift to an association's party bag: gorgeous, recycled-cardboard business-card holders I had filled with my business card and a small buckslip offering a complimentary e-mail critique. It was a memorable little promotion that turned out to be a nice icebreaker at the event.
Now unfortunately, on the day of the party, there was a huge snowstorm that kept a lot of people away -- and so I have a big box of those business card holders sitting in my office. But to keep my involvement going, I plan to send them to members listed on the group's roster.
What's more, getting involved in the association holiday party has led to meeting people who are on the group's board, and I have offered to write for its e-newsletter. So this network of camaraderie is likely to continue to grow -- online and offline -- in the years ahead, along with my business.
How do you use e-mail to network? Share your best techniques with Karen for a future column.
Karen Gedney, an award-winning creative director and copywriter, shared her insights as a ClickZ Experts contributor from 2000 through 2009. She was known for her successful track record of achieving high e-mail response rates for Fortune 1000 companies and leading organizations. She died Nov. 16, 2010.
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