Being prepared to network requires more than having business cards ready and a memorized elevator pitch. There are simple ways to take your networking game higher, says Rosemary Smyth, founder of Rosemary Smyth & Associates in Victoria.
Smyth offers the following tips for a more confident and productive networking experience:
1. Bring the right materials
Your three most important physical tools for an evening of networking are: breath mints, business cards and a pen.
The breath mints and business cards are obvious. Just make sure you have enough cards. You’d hate to run out in the middle of the event. Smyth keeps three stashes when she is at an event: in a cardholder, in her purse and in her car.
If you don’t carry a purse, use an inside jacket pocket in addition to another pocket in your suit.
A pen will come in handy when you need to record details about a particular conversation. Make those notes on the back of that person’s business card so you can easily identify whom you were talking to.
2. Keep your business cards accessible
When someone asks for your card, you will look more organized if you don’t have to rummage through many pockets and a bag to retrieve it. Keep your own business cards in one pocket and store others’ in a separate pocket — so you know you are handing out the right ones.
Where you stow others’ cards is important in ensuring you don’t lose them and will take appropriate action later, Smyth says: “If you put them somewhere where you have to take them out of your pocket at the end of the night, then you know you have to do something with them.”
You might send those people an invitation to connect on LinkedIn or scan their cards to create a digital document.
3. Comment on the card you receive before putting it away
Providing a compliment regarding the card you have received is a good way to start building rapport, Smyth says. It is also an easy way to start a conversation.
Do you really like the tagline on the business card? Tell that person. She will appreciate the compliment and may tell you the back-story of how it came about.
4. Know where to put your hands
It’s a good idea to hold a drink in your left hand. Otherwise, you might have to wipe your hand before shaking with someone.
But do hold a drink. It keeps your hand occupied and prevents you from unconsciously folding your arms or stuffing your hands in your pockets, both examples of negative body language.
Folded arms represent a defensive, closed-off position. Having your hands in your pockets can lead to you playing with whatever is stored there, like your keys, which makes you look nervous and fidgety.
5. Don’t mix eating and talking
When you’re eating, stay near a table so you can put your plate down should someone approach you. However, Smyth says, leave the food behind when you’re ready to engage in conversation.