In order to ensure you leave a lasting impression on a potential client, colleague or business partner, follow these essential networking how-tos
Part of our collective professional responsibility is to attend events in order to find business, and those in the P&C industry are no strangers to networking opportunities. Some are pretty good at it, and some are not. For a variety of reasons, some brokers come up empty-handed when it comes to business development in this pseudo social/professional arena. The three elements of success are preparation, curiosity, and self-promotion. Let’s discuss the reasons why some may fail, and focus on ways to turn losing into winning.
First, answer this question yes or no: would you prepare yourself for an upcoming client meeting, or a presentation? I suspect all would answer yes. Now the next question: would you prepare yourself to attend a social networking event (beyond what to wear and where to park)? I suspect the majority of us would answer no. We need to change this answer to a yes by doing some homework prior to attending an event.
We don’t want to take the fun and spontaneity out of these events, but at the same time we all want to make some contacts that turn into business or advancement. The question now is what kind of preparation is required? Thanks to online access to information and the good old telephone, you can just search and ask about the host organization and the attendees. Your goal is to discover which professions are attending and to connect what you offer professionally to this population. Uncover and think about what professional services these people would use and how you could provide them. These services would hopefully be ones you provide, but also consider who you know that you could refer as an alternative. This makes you look like an expert in your industry.
We know that these events are not sales calls. We don’t close business here; we just open the doors to business conversations down the road. The connections we make at these social events must be memorable in order for people to think of you, and what you offer when the time comes. Being positively memorable is a crucial requirement when attending these events, and this hinges on emotion. People will remember you if you make them respond emotionally to you in a positive way.
Communication occurs on two channels. The first is content, such as words spoken and heard. The second is the emotional channel, including trust, confidence, competence, and very importantly, likability. Whereas content level communication is easily forgotten, emotional level communication is more easily remembered. Simply, we remember if we liked someone even if we can’t remember the content of our conversations.
The question: what makes you positively memorable and likable? The answer: be interested! Be genuinely curious and ask questions about the life story of those you meet. Ask the following:
- Where are you from?
- Where are your parents from?
- What was it like growing up there?
- Do you have brothers or sisters?
- How did you get from there to here?
Be bold, be courageous and above all, ask questions. Yearn to learn about the biographies of those you meet. Listen for connections (e.g. things in common) between their life experiences and your own, and discuss these. The motto here is: better to be interested than interesting.
And finally, often attendees are so uncomfortable with self-promotion that the topic of business never even comes up at the event. It makes you wonder why you went in the first place. Gentle promotion of what you do, what you offer, what your company does, and how you help, is vital in order to develop business at a networking event.
Be bold, be courageous and above all, ask questions. Yearn to learn about the biographies of those you meet.
Be the first to ask, “What do you do?” Be sure they elaborate on the answer and ask more questions if you must. It’s important to have a person speak for a couple of minutes about their job, so when they reciprocate and ask about yours, you’re allowed to speak for a couple of minutes (self-promotion and business development).
Here’s where your pre-event preparation comes into play because you now have a decent idea of the professionals in attendance. As a result, you should have a clear statement prepared as to how what you do (and what you offer) helps people in their industry or profession.
After you have told them what you do, ask: “Do you have anyone providing this?” If they don’t, then instead of getting into a business conversation at a social event, ask if you could have his/her card to follow up and discuss in more detail.
Remember, business development in the social arena requires preparation (who will be there and how they need you); being emotionally memorable (ask questions); and being able to transition social talk to business as a matter of course in the conversation. Good luck and have fun.
Paul Byrne is a senior partner and trainer with Mackay Byrne Group Inc. He is also a professor of communications skills in Ottawa, Ont.
How to Network in 10 Minutes or Less
When you’re at an event you want to make a lasting impression and don’t always have a lot of time. Here’s what you need to know to ensure you’re remembered:
- Open interactions with a great handshake: firm but not too firm, eye contact, big smile. Fully engage and attend to the person during this interaction. Make them feel important because impressions at the emotional level happen within seconds of meeting someone.
- Be very curious about the biographies of those you meet. Ask questions, and uncover the things you have in common.
- Transition from social to business talk by asking what people do, then offer what you could do for them.
Surviving Small Talk
The following questions help you communicate on an emotional level.
- Where are you from?
- Where are your parents from?
- Do you have any brothers or sisters?
- Where did you go to school?
- What did you study in university or college?
- How was your first job?
- What do you like to do in your spare time?
- Have you travelled much? Where did you go?
Source: Mackay Byrne Group
© Copyright 2010 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the July/August 2010 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine.