Lara Morgan on facing the demons of attending the much-dreaded but invaluable networking meetings.
This month I want to discuss the importance of ‘getting out and about,’ ‘being noticed’ as well as ‘the value of face to face meetings.’ I want to talk about the benefits of networking and that we achieve something just by turning up.
Yes, it’s often a pain. Before the pandemic I was up at six in the morning, dark winter days, frosty outside, and always keen to beat the traffic. I’d rather get to my destination early and then have time to prep for a meeting, rather than be stressed and less organised. There is plenty to be gained turning up in person, rather than being lazy and defaulting to ‘Zoom culture’.
Recently I was doing an early morning recording at the shopping channel QVC. While waiting in television’s infamous ‘green room’ I connected with other brand owners. While there I learnt a lot about live TV, just listening and chatting to the professionals. This was information and tips I would not have otherwise known had I been interviewed via my laptop at home.
More than that, I also met our new buyer and personally handed over samples. I talked to the presenter who will help us sell our brand, and all this achieved by 11am – not bad for a morning’s work.
After responding to what felt like thousands of emails, I then – later the same day – attended a networking event. I have never enjoyed going into a room full of strangers, and especially when I was a young female entrepreneur starting out, but did it anyway. Yet I soon realised there were many benefits to being a young female in a room of sharp-suited males. I felt I had the upper hand.
Once I learned the secret of breaking into conversation with strangers I have never looked back, but still get nervous from time to time. And always the moral of the story is: By turning up, you give yourself more chances to win. The majority of people probably loathe networking – unless they are super confident. You might be the best sales person or expert in your chosen field and still dislike these events.
Even after many years of introducing myself to complete strangers I often struggle. Yet networking remains an essential part of succeeding in businesses. We all need to find new untapped audiences and should remember one important reality: People buy from people, whether it is a product, a process or a service.
So these events are necessary, even if you have to mix with people with whom the only thing you have in common is business itself. I remember a member of my staff attending one of these events with me. She was shy, quiet and new to the world of business. The entire process was intimidating for her, yet she prospered and, two decades later, still works for my company.
One of my favourite tips when entering a room of unknown people is to join a group of three – not two. There is always the possibility that the third person is completely left out of the conversation. Therefore, by joining a group of three, there is usually one person ready and willing to chat with the newly arrived fourth member. And always be the first person to start up a conversation.
Essentially there is nothing like face-to-face meetings and the last couple of years have really tested this particular format. Forget Zoom, there is no substitute for being out and about, exchanging information and – for the second time in this feature – I will say: People will buy first from the person, not the company. Here are some other tips:
Try to find out, ahead of any meeting, who is going to be there
Decide who you want to speak to and maybe ask the organiser to introduce you to them. Always go to events early and try to take a photo of the name badges laid out on the table by the entrance to the room. Even learning how to pronounce a person’s name will give you plenty of kudos. But you may be able to acquire a list of delegates’ names prior to an event anyway.
Make certain your name is clear to read
Pin your ‘name badge’ high up on your right side – not left – because this is easier for others to see. People’s brains are trained to read from left to right
Share knowledge and target people
If you are with other delegates from your company, split up and network separately. Sit at different tables, therefore maximising your opportunities. But keep an eye on other members of your team and create a sign language between members of the group. This will enable a colleague to rescue you from a useless conversation with the ‘wrong target.’ This is obviously a ruthless tactic but that’s the way it has to be, as time is limited. Always be polite but make certain each of you know your lines before entering a room of delegates.
How to politely get someone’s attention
Think of a couple of excellent, standout questions to ask speakers. Intelligent people ask intelligent questions. By asking a question to one of the speakers, this will give you an opportunity to stand-up and introduce yourself in full view of the entire room.
You may need to practice your introductions, questions and get-out clauses with your team beforehand. Hold a brainstorming session with them and accumulate some punchy one-liners. These should ideally be linked to the value of your proposition, the solution you provide and how it is better and differs from others. All very much sales-speak, but it works. Take plenty of business cards with you.
Tailor your approach
If you have managed to get a list of delegates before an event, make certain your one-liners are nailed. Make certain that these one-liners focus on putting your customers’ benefits first. Be humble, make no over-bold assumptions and always ask for mobile telephone numbers. Find out when it’s the best time to contact them – as they won’t want to be interrupted at a particularly busy moment. And always follow up at the exact time and date that was agreed. And when you do ‘never pitch’, make a more relaxed approach on this occasion.
Sometimes it’s not always possible to speak with everyone you want to. Therefore, on these occasions, make a point of contacting them shortly afterwards (the importance of taking a photo of all the name badges). And, if it’s still impossible to meet up in person, you can always catch up virtually – as a consolation.
Look the part
Dress sharply. Entrepreneurial communities don’t usually wear suits. Most of the blokes wear jeans, an open neck shirt and a jacket. Women wear a variation of that. But don’t leave anything to chance – hair, make-up, nails, shoes etc. Details are important, even having a spotlessly clean keyboard on your laptop. You need to command an air of authority, confidence and gravitas. Don’t have dirty shoes, and grubby clothing. You need to create an impression of being organised, on top of your game and an expert in your field. Ultimately, use your personality to your advantage. Be amiable, affable, genuine and above all listen.