Spring is in the air, or at least it will be once all this darn snow melts away. Maybe it’s the good weather (all relative, Bostonians), or maybe it’s the graduating seniors/MBAs, but I always feel like I meet tons of brand new networkers this time of year.
I typically spend 3-4 nights a week meeting new people at networking events, so I figured I’d share a few best practices I’ve acquired over the last few years.
Warning: For some of you, this post may seem a bit stalker-ish. That is certainly not the intention. Entrepreneurs need to work hard to get in front of the right people, and being meticulous will put you out ahead of your competition. Happy networking!
BEFORE THE EVENT
#1: Comb through the guest list and identify your “targets.”
Many events publish guest lists beforehand, or you can simply ask the event organizer for one. Compile a short list of your targets for the evening.
#2: Find mutual acquaintances.
Use the power of social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter) to find people with whom you and your target are mutually acquainted. If your acquaintance will also be at the event, make sure you request an intro in person. If not, request an intro beforehand to give your target a heads up.
#3: Do your homework on what your target cares about.
You should read as much as you can (bios, blog posts, interviews) about your target and get to know what he does and how he thinks about the world. (Let’s arbitrarily assume your target is male to avoid the whole he/she pronoun issue.) This is relatively easy with a little Googling nowadays.
After digesting this info, form your own opinion about what your target is working on, or views he’s expressed publicly. Make sure you have one topic where you agree and one where you disagree (more to come on this later).
DURING THE EVENT
#4: Show up on time and check the name card desk.
Most important people show up late to events. That’s just the way it is. They’re running from one thing to another, and they can’t help being late. You, however, can show up on time and have the benefit of checking the name card desk when few of the name cards have been taken. That way, if you had any doubts as to who would be in attendance, you can now be relatively certain.
#5: Know the hotspots, i.e. “the 3 B’s.”
The 3 B’s are Bar, Buffet, and Bathroom. These are the places your target will hit at least once in the evening. If you hang out by one of these, you will probably bump into him.
#6: Display knowledge and value.
Have your mutual acquaintance make an introduction at the event, or alternatively introduce yourself. Be polite and lead with the piece of your homework that you agree on. Let the conversation take off from there. If you get into a deeper conversation, bring up the piece of your homework that you disagree on. This will show that you have some gumption, and that you’ve thought through the relevant issues deeply. Again, be polite. No one likes a know-it-all.
Throughout the conversation, if you can add value to the relationship (an intro, your expert opinion), feel free to offer. Often to “come bearing gifts” is the best strategy.
#7: Exit gracefully.
Your interaction should typically last no more than five minutes. If you find your target’s gaze wandering, it’s time to finish up. Express that you enjoyed the conversation and that you’d love to follow up. It’s ok to ask for a card and to give him one yourself if you’ve had a meaningful exchange.
AFTER THE EVENT
#8: Follow up within 24 hours.
Send a follow up email within 24 hours of the event. After 24 hours, you may be forgotten. Make it short and sweet, and make sure you have an “ask” that’s specific and actionable.
Before you press the send button, ask yourself the question, “Can [the target] read this on his blackberry without scrolling?” Obey the http://three.sentenc.es methodology for the body of the email. And, keep in mind, the target may not remember you.
#9: Don’t do any of the following:
- Fire off a LinkedIn invite. (You haven’t “done business together”…yet.)
- Friend your target on Facebook. (You’re not friends. Sorry.)
- Send a file attached to your email (unless explicitly asked).
- Leave a voicemail with your email. (It’s just annoying and never gets listened to.)
#10: Play it cool.
If you send 3 emails in one week, you will get ignored. Don’t look desperate. My rule of thumb is one email a week if you don’t hear back for up to 3 weeks. After that, it’s a lost cause, my friend. Start from #1 and cycle through again.
Overall, your goal in any networking interaction is to create the illusion of serendipity where none exists.
What does exist usually is a thoughtful, meticulous process that connects you with the people who can help you most.