Many people network like they are playing a Piñata game. They are swinging around seeking the right connections to win big business or career prizes. They may not literally have a blindfold over their eyes. Yet their lack of preparation has the same effect — coming up empty more times than actually finding viable leads.
This issue is often seen at networking events. Since they haven’t checked the list of people coming to the event (or looked up possible attendees online or targeted people to speak to), they are blindfolded and flailing around with a stick hoping to connect with the right people. The Piñata approach has a very low probability of success that is second only to talking to people you already know.
Preparing for Networking Events
To be successful at networking, it is important to be intentional with your pre-event preparations. The following steps will help to ensure greater success:
1. Find out who is coming to the event and choose who you want to talk with during the allotted time. If a list of attendees is not available, call the event planner for more information. When necessary, volunteer at the check-in table so you know who is attending.
2. Go online before the event to find out more details about the people you selected. LinkedIn and other sites provide instant resumes. This tactic will help you find useful information to use to talk to your target people.
3. Have a plan when speaking to your target people to reach your networking goals. What do you want to achieve by talking with them? Are you looking for specific information, to find out more about what they do, to discover overlapping interests, or do you want to establish a good connection?
4. Always exchange business cards. If you are in transition, not currently employed or in semi-retirement, have a transition card so people can reach out to you.
5. Be inclusive – introduce your target people to others in your business network. When you share information and are generous with your leads, people will notice and appreciate your thoughtfulness. They may reciprocate by sharing great leads with you.
6. Listen closely when you talk to a new person. Following the event, write down notes about what you discussed while the information is still fresh in your mind.
Following up with Your Leads
Now that you have a list of prospects, it’s now time to follow through and build strong business relationships. Here are several tips on how to follow up on your leads:
• Stay in touch by sending helpful information to your new connections — i.e. pertinent articles, potential contacts or clients.
• Follow up with them by agreeing to meet for coffee with an intention to further develop your business relationship. Plan your meeting so your new contact receives benefits, so they will look forward to your next meeting with them.
• When appropriate, establish a referral relationship. Your new connection can help introduce you to their associations or business groups that will increase your list of new contacts.
Untie your blindfold and put down your piñata stick when building your network. While you won’t have a chance to grab at the pile of candy at your feet, your winnings will be more long lasting. You’ll be focused and confident because you have a solid, working plan of action. You will gain new contacts that may become friends who you can help your business, and you’ll always be looking forward to your next networking opportunity.