In a previous blog, I wrote about The Need and Power of Networking for Small Business. So now you’ve signed up for a networking event (maybe your first), what do you do? First and foremost, relax. Attending networking events is an excellent way to get started because you’re teaming with a group of like-minded individuals who are all after the same goal. It’s normal to feel a bit nervous, but just stay calm knowing you’re all there for the same purpose.

The first step is to dress for success. Whether the tone of your business is whimsical, professional, elite, or casual, attend network events in business-professional attire. Always start with a firm handshake, offering eye contact, a smile, and asking questions. When you introduce yourself, immediately offer your business card – this serves two main purposes: 1) It can be a conversation starter and 2) It will help the person remember who you are later.

Networking events are essentially informal mutual interviews, so asking professionally-based questions makes you appear engaged, and it also helps you gauge if the person you’re speaking with can help you with your business. Be mindful not to ask personal questions – but basic family questions are okay ONLY if the other party mentions it. For example: “My wife and I decided to open a winery in Napa.” You can follow-up with: “How long have you been married?”

Be a proactive listener; it’s okay to ask for clarification if you don’t understand something. Ask follow-up questions and integrate bits of yourself when appropriate. To relate to the previous example of the winery, you could follow up with: “Really! What would you say are the best wines from Napa Valley? I do not know much about wines, so I actually just took a basic wine course a few weeks ago.”

The main point to remember at networking events is that everyone there is looking to meet people. If you are pleasant, engaged, and a good listener, that’s all you need to make an impact while you’re there. Finally, you want to follow-up with people. The next day, send a quick email to each person individually and cite a specific point from your conversation with them to help remind them who you were.

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