November 22, 2017

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

Secrets to Make you More Effective at Networking Events (and Avoid Being The Creepy Stalker)

Secrets to Make you More Effective at Networking Events (and Avoid Being The Creepy Stalker)

In business, there are three situations where people assemble together as part of work. Nerds call this networking in “The Meat Space,” as opposed to all of the purely online interaction, which often replaces the hustle of in-person networking these days. (But now the world is our market since we don’t have to drive everywhere!). There are three situations that require personal contact:
1. **Company Meetings** – Everything from the one-on-one with your boss to the annual company kickoff. These have many rules, and is far too large a topic to get into here.
2. **Customer Contact** – Meeting others for the purpose of doing business, most often done by sales and customer service. I put marketing and PR in a separate category here since, until recently, you couldn’t really call one way communication “contact”
3. **Trade Shows and Networking Events** – Events that teach and/or provide the opportunity to meet new people. This is the section we’ll tackle.
As I made sure I had nothing in my teeth and popped an Altoid last week while preparing for a networking event, I stopped to think about the social dynamics of these meetings. A few weeks later I had solidified some rules and principles. Digging deeper we find four types of people at these Trade Shows and Networking Events:
1. People there in hopes of doing more business with existing clients or looking to **add clients to an existing business**.
2. **Those who want to learn**, and may be searching for “The Next Big Thing” or how to improve on what they are already doing.
3. **Job Hunters**
4. People there for the food or the giveaways (lovingly referred to as “**bagpeople**” or “**trick-or-treaters**” – we’ll ignore them as most city folk do)
Across all three is the possibility that these people want to have fun. This can vary in degree from slight enjoyment in chatting on the trade show floor with a favorite customer and hating everything else about the entire event, all the way up to using the trip as a boondoggle to take the kids to [Universal Studios](http://www.universalorlando.com/usf_attr_t2.html) and stopping by the booth for 5 minutes during a slow time during the week on the floor.
So the rules have been set: we’re looking at events and there are three types of people that we may meet. It’s true that there’s no substitute for face to face discussion, but the problem is getting to the right faces. Both at a live (or online event) you at least know that the attendees have something in common (such as the event topic – [The Portable Toilet Exposition](http://www.psai.org/calendar.html)). **One of the major advantages to networking online is that it makes it easy to learn a lot about a person before you take up their valuable time.** It also gets around the first 5 minutes of awkward conversation, and filters out things like spouses that have no interest in being there, or the bagpeople. It’s always difficult as we tend to be rushing around before heading off to an event, but it’s worth the extra 15 minutes to surf around the web and learn about key attendees so you have something to get you by the awkward introductions (“Hi, my name is Dave and I saw your presentation on X and wanted to ask you…”).
I’ve found 4 levels of people at live events:
1. **Weird Loners** – People who are crazy, don’t know what they are doing or have no plan (worse yet, all of the above). They don’t know anyone and are hanging out trying to meet people. To the other three groups these are high risk contacts, they may latch on, be insane, and not let go, so they tend to avoid them.
2. **Hunters** – These are loners who have done some homework and have a list of people to talk to. They’ll do 100x better than the loners, but the other attendees may have a look of panic during initial conversations as they assess the threat level and try to determine if you are a creepy stalker.
3. **The Connected** – Know enough people to have a pleasant time, try and meet a few new people, catch up with old friends. They have successfully graduated from being hunters and still have those skills to some degree.
4. **Group Organizer** – Has all the cards, knows the majority of the people and why they were invited. They may or may not be successful hunters (ask them one month after the event has passed).
Now that you can see all the moving parts in the machine, here’s the meat you are looking for:
**How to Work an Event Like a Pro (listed by increasing skill level, start at the top)**
1. **Fly with a Wingman, Alone You Have No Defense** – This is key if you are a newbie to events, you’re already going to be nervous, but this can give you a huge confidence boost. If you are going into unfamiliar territory, having just one familiar face in the crowd, you are, by definition, excluded from being a weird loner. You can become at least eight times more productive – you double the ground you can cover by working separately (2x room working speed), you can refer qualified contacts to each other (2x names), and if you get cornered they can rescue you – “Nice to meet you, please excuse us, I need to bring Sally over to meet an important customer of hers” (worth at least 2x and can be priceless depending on how much time the loner would chew up otherwise).
2. **Don’t be a Job Hunter** – This is the number one newbie mistake. The time to network is BEFORE you need a job. It’s very hard to be comfortable in a room of unfamiliar faces, knowing you are trying to find a source for the mortgage payment. Even the best may crack and start to take on the tint of a stalker under this kind of pressure. If you already know the group and are among The Connected, you’d be making phone calls the day your career issues began, not 3 weeks later at a social function. Alas, this is a rule that you can only obey through preparation. If you are already in the hole, just go to the event. Better to have a poor event than do nothing.
3. **Be a Hunter** – Go in with a plan, have 3 people you want to meet and learn enough about them so you have a starting point for conversation – “Hey, I noticed you blogged about X, could you tell me more…” Do your homework until you join The Connected and you’ll be on your way to actually having fun.
4. **Avoid Being The Creepy Stalker** – if you have successfully hunted someone down and they’ve given you the polite courtesy of a chat, you must, in matching courtesy, give them an Exit Opportunity after 2-4 minutes (or whenever the conversation hits a natural extended pause: “Thanks for chatting with me, I appreciate your time and realize you must have many people to talk with, I’m going to… (whatever – grab another drink, meet another friend).
5. **Mastering the Handoff** – Once you know at least one person in the room (another reason for a wingman), and you are comfortable with your conversational skills, the handoff can eliminate the challenge of crafting the exit opportunity. If you talk for 2-10 minutes and then can introduce a new person into the group this will create a natural break for you to move on, and allows everyone to be more productive.
6. **Crack the Power Code** – This is master level skill, and helps you shape your entire strategy. Figure out who runs the event, who sponsors the event, why and how people were added to the list. This will help you determine who the power players are. If you can find one real connector, then you never have to go to a mass event again, you just ask the connector for some help in pointing you in the right direction.
7. **Hijack the Event** – The ultimate is to make it your event, you succeed when people that met you consider that the highlight of the event. It should go without saying that when you do this you would never offend the host; you will always be an honored guest, not a source of trouble. Be an engaging conversationalist, (and if you’re not, at least give out free stuff, that gets people talking).
*John Wall discusses current marketing techniques every week on the free [Marketing Over Coffee](http://marketingovercoffee.com) Audio Program. He likes getting gift certificates to Amazon. This article was based on some half baked ramblings in his blog that Chip Griffin (a friend he met first in the meat space at an event) encouraged him to make more coherent.*

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