If the word ‘networking’ conjures up visions of early morning breakfast meetings in hotel lobbies, laden with stick-on name tags and awkward silences – you’re probably not alone. We understand that stereotype, we really do. Networking gets a bad rep as being an uncool, inorganic way of forging business partnerships. But is it really the premise of networking that puts people off, or is it simply that we’re approaching it all wrong?
These days, people, and especially sales people themselves, get uncomfortable when they cotton on that they’re being not-so-covertly sold to under the premise of networking. And who could blame them? That’s not what networking is meant to be. There’s still a very salesy undertone to many networking events, when really it should be about making those early introductions and learning about opportunities rather than going in for the kill right off the bat.
Networking is really important for businesses of all sizes, but it could be particularly beneficial for SMEs and startups to get their name out there. After all that saying about people buying from people still rings true. A potential lead is much more likely to consider you if you’ve had meaningful face-to-face interaction at some point, and even more so if you’ve since kept your relationship alive.
If you want to rub shoulders with influencers in your industry, throwing a networking event with a twist could be just the ticket. Here’s how to ensure your networking event breaks the mould and avoids the stereotypically awkward breakfast buffet vibe:
There needs to be a reason for your meetup besides “just having a chat”. You should make sure your event has the pulling power to entice delegates in, after all they can get generic business chatter by the water cooler in their office. Offer to teach them something, perhaps even enlist the help of your existing network and bring in a guest speaker to share their expertise with the group.
If you really want to get them talking, split them into groups for an activity to ignite their competitive streaks and keep the room abuzz with conversation.
Have an opinion
There’s nothing worse than wishy-washy surface level chatter when there are experts in the room just dying to have their say, but holding off because they don’t want to put any potential leads off. This is another by-product of the salesy networking event that you’ll want to stop in its tracks.
Don’t be afraid to be your organic self and have an opinion. One of the reasons people find traditional networking events a little awkward is because everybody is on their best behaviour and almost afraid to give too much away.
Yes you want to impress your delegates and leave a positive impression in their minds, but you still want to show yourself off as being knowledgeable in your industry. If you’re hosting a discussion, get stuck in and let the room know what your approach is to the topic at hand.
Connect the dots
Networking is as much about getting your name out there as it is making sure other people are interacting with one another. Don’t shy away from playing matchmaker. Should you discover that one of your attendees has recently done a course in data security, by all means direct them over to the small business owner who recently had a brush with a cyberattack and get them chatting.
Even if you don’t see anything coming from your own relationships with those people, if they hit it off with one another they’ll take a lot away from it and be more inclined to bring their extended network along to your next event.
Ban sales patter
One of the main reasons many senior decision makers don’t want to attend networking events is that they don’t want to be sold to outright. Make it known on invitations that there is to be no selling at this event, only learning and authentic discussion. If people want to strike up a deal with one another, they’ll use your event to make the introduction and follow up afterwards to seal the deal.
Stay in touch
We know you’re making an effort to differentiate this event from the rest, but the point of any networking event is still to gather contacts and become well-known in your industry – so following up with attendees is a must.
By this point you’ll probably have made some meaningful introductions and left a lasting impression on attendees. Make sure you personalise your follow up communications and tailor it to the individual.
Did you notice that one attendee disagreed with your key speaker? Bring it up in conversation and comment on how you admired their approach and fire over a link to an article on that particular subject.
Have you had success with your networking events? Leave us a comment and let us know what worked well for you.