Read 6 minutes
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur Contributors are their own.
I am often asked by other entrepreneurs how I built my PR business and how I get new clients. There are several examples I can share, but I usually start with an answer that you don't expect. I am talking about the importance of attending networking events.
The great thing about networking events is that they work for you whether you're a new business or have a long history. You can be a beginner or an expert, but you have potentially the same opportunities to make important connections as any other person in the room.
Before I enter a networking event, I pump myself up with one simple thought: There is a person in the room whom I am supposed to meet. That person may one day refer me to someone who becomes a customer, or they can become a customer themselves. The hard part is figuring out who to meet in the room. To make matters worse, I'll only be staying at the event for an hour or two. That said, I have to be efficient to meet as many people as possible before I go.
To help you achieve your goals and get the most out of networking events, here are eight networking tips that have worked for me and may work for you, whether you're new to networking or consider yourself an expert.
Related: 5 Tips for Stress-Free Networking
1. Networking like snorkeling
If you snorkel and swim in a group, you may scare away the fish instead of attracting them. In comparison, if you go out on your own and stay still, the fish will come to you. If you are uncomfortable walking up to strangers, stand at a waist-high high table in a busy area of the room and people will introduce themselves to you.
2. Look for people standing alone at the table or against the wall
Everyone who attends a networking event is there to meet people. If you don't know where to go or who to talk to, look for people waiting for someone to come up to them. You will appreciate that you took the first step.
3. Follow the KISS method
Not that kind of kiss! KISS: Just keep it stupid. They're not trying to get a date or impress anyone, so don't worry about a smart pickup line. "Hello, my name is …" is a good opener. Try asking a simple substitute question like “Have you been to this event before?” Or “Are you excited for the big sports game this week?” To try to start a conversation. Don't talk about work; that will come soon enough. Just try to make a personal connection the first time you meet someone.
Related: 5 Tips for Networking Authentically in a Co-Working Space
4. The shorter the better
The whole point of a networking event is to talk to as many people as possible, so don't stay with someone for too long. Five to ten minutes should be the maximum. If you are talking to just one person, invite them to join you in a larger group. When you're already in a larger group, it's often easy to turn your body to greet others or bring someone within your line of sight and quickly take a few steps towards them to get into the closest group. No one will be offended for not saying goodbye, especially if he or she is in conversation with someone else if you pull away.
5. Focus on the connection, not the sale
Nobody is going to buy what you sell during the networking event. Your goal is to establish a connection so that you can track the person after the event. Let him or her talk as much as possible. The more you learn about the person, the stronger the connection and the more they are likely to like you.
6. Collect business cards in a targeted manner
It is not a competition to get or hand out most of the business cards. You're just looking for cards from people you think you might want to speak to again. The reason could be simply because you enjoy talking to them, hoping to do business with them, or because they could be a good source of recommendation for you. After taking someone's card, write something from the conversation on the back so you can email them later. This could be a favorite sports team or something the person said about their children.
7. Hand out business cards wisely
Each card issued could result in you being added to a different email list or receiving calls when they try to sell you for their product. If someone asks you for your card, you probably have to give it out of courtesy. That doesn't mean you have to offer your card to someone if you're not interested in talking to them again.
Related: How Networking Can Grow Your Business' Assets
8. Shaking hands with the important people
You don't need to know the person or speak to them. If you see an elected official, event organizer, or a key business leader in the room, be sure to shake hands with them. Just walk up to you when he or she is talking to someone else, hold out your hand and say it is nice to see him or her at the event, and walk away. He or she will assume that you've met before and he or she just forgot your name. After a few events, that person will recognize your face and before you know it, they will come up to you and start a conversation.
Networking is a long game that is not about making a sale right away. The best networkers are consistent and repetitive, but not intrusive. Going to the same event month after month, saying hello to the same people, and ultimately being remembered should be the goal when attending networking events. It's only when you really remember that the people you build relationships with are more likely to pay attention to what you do and only then will they work to find a way to work with you because they finally feel this way as if they know (and trust) you.
And above all, smile! These events are supposed to be fun! So get out, relax, shake hands and enjoy the experience.