By Kim Larochelle, DRPR, Sydney – Sympra’s partner agency in Australia
Public Relations (PR) is about raising visibility of your business to create greater awareness and eventually, understanding for what you stand for. The idea is that through this long-term process, your target market will start believing and feeling a certain way towards your organisation (hopefully positive!) and take action (i.e. buy your products or services, refer you to a friend, subscribe to your newsletter, etc.).
The PR ‘toolbox’, that is all the initiatives and activities at your disposal to raise visibility of your business, can really extend as far as your imagination takes it – from media coverage, events and awards to social media and everything in between. One activity of this PR mix that should never be underestimated is networking. The face-to-face connections and relationships that arise from networking can be very powerful in creating goodwill towards you and your organisation. But networking can also become a very expensive, time-consuming and useless exercise if not done effectively. Over the past two years, I have really started discovering the power – and fun – of networking. I am an official member of four groups and I visit many others from time to time. So here are my top nine tips for making your networking efforts successful opportunities for your business.
1. Choose your attitude
We have busy schedules and taking two hours out of our morning or lunch can sometimes feel like an added burden on our already never ending to-do list. At times, we also simply don’t feel ‘in the mood’ to go mingle with strangers and talk about our business. Your negative attitude will transcend, giving an ‘I don’t want to be here’ vibe to others in the group. So before entering the room, choose to be there mentally as much as physically. A good exercise to help clear your mind is the following:
Acknowledge what’s in the background for you and how it makes you feel. Then, consciously put this thought aside. Repeat this acknowledgement exercise until you feel clear and ready to focus on the ‘here and now’. (This is a very good tip I learnt from the coaching course I’m undertaking with Results Coaching Systems… Try this every time you need to give your full attention to something).
2. Dress to impress
If the idea behind networking is to meet people and create relationships, then dressing in a way that is dull and neutral (and ‘invisible’!) really won’t help you stand out from the crowd. Wear something you are comfortable in, but also something that will give others a reason to look at you and, most importantly, remember you. It could be the colour of your clothing, a piece of jewellery, a tie or your shoes!
3. Be prepared
Being prepared means three things:
- Know the reasons why you are visiting this particular network. Is it to identify potential clients, learn about a certain topic, recruit new staff, find suppliers or strategic partners, catch up with friends?
- Have an adequate ‘cocktail pitch’ (also known as an elevator statement… much less glamorous!). This should refer to who you are, what you do and how you help your clients. It could also tie in with the reasons why you are visiting the group
- Prepare some conversation starters – For example, a hot topic in the news, an interesting story you just heard, what their interest is in the event’s speaker, etc.
4. Give yourself time to connect
The most value you can get out of a typical networking function is the 30 minutes before and after the presenter starts speaking. This is when you can meet with others in the room and start building your connections – the whole purpose of networking! So make sure you arrive to the event early and keep your diary free at least 30 minutes to one hour following the function so you can really maximise on the networking opportunity.
Or should I say… SMILE! You never who is looking at you when and there is nothing more attractive then a smiling person. People will want to go talk to you if you appear approachable, happy… with a smile.
6. Work the room
Don’t be shy! Meet and greet as many people as you can. People expect to meet new connections when they go to a networking function so if you introduce yourself to a group of people already talking, it will be welcomed. And if you see someone who’s alone, why not go talk to them? When you introduce yourself, shake hands confidently and call people by their names (as well as being flattering to the person who can see that you paid attention to them, it is a great way to remember their name).
7. Authenticity, curiosity & interest
Networking is not about selling. Do not expect to go to a networking function and come back with business leads. If you do, it’s a bonus – wonderful but a bonus only. The purpose of networking is to develop connections and relationships, which in the longer term can become great sources of referrals, partners, clients, employees or even just friends! Yes they are business events and therefore it is normal to discuss what your business is about, but the pushy sales statements should stay out of the equation. Focus on building trust first by being genuinely interested in them, being curious and asking them questions (work and non-work related, as you see fit).
8. Nurture your relationships
For contacts made at networking functions to become referrals, partners, clients, employees or friends, they need to be nurtured. Ways to take these connections beyond the event itself include catching up with them face-to-face or connecting with them via LinkedIn. For example, you could have a goal to organise a coffee catch up with at least one person met at each event. To help you remember who you met at the event and add a personal touch next time you liaise with them, you might like to write down – in your database or on the person’s business card – where and when you met the person and one thing they said about themselves or something particular they were wearing that will help trigger your memory.
9. Be generous
There’s a great Network or perish: Learn the secrets of master networkers published by the Worth Knowing Series. In this book, eight networking gurus including global networking specialist Robyn Henderson give their tips and strategies to enhance your networking skills. Two of these tips summarise what I mean by ‘being generous’: “Reciprocity – Master networkers understand that what you give out comes back to you tenfold – when you give out positivity, you will receive positivity; when you give out referrals, you will receive referrals; and when you give out negativity, you will receive negativity. Giving without expectation – Master networkers give without remembering and receive without forgetting. They do things for other people, not in the hope of receiving anything in return, but simply to help someone else achieve their goals.”
What is your experience of networking? Have you found it a worthwhile PR exercise for yourself and your business? I am curious to read your comments!