As I helped friends prep for their first outing to a large business event, it reminded me how unnatural it can feel for a young professional to walk into a room full of the community’s movers and shakers and try to walk out having made some quality contacts.
This group of four 20-somethings recently launched a website design and marketing firm to cater to small- and medium-sized businesses — and budgets. Their concept works in theory, but finding clients and growing their portfolio will put the theory to the test. They realized quickly that their creative juices were going to stay figments of their imagination if they didn’t get connected and build some buzz.
What impressed me most about this situation was the team’s proactive approach to the entire process. Initially they turned to the Internet to find some places to start their networking efforts. They learned that in London, Ont., the first big have-to-be-at event of the year is the chamber of commerce’s annual state of the city address.
In anticipation of this they started asking questions like what should we wear, who should we talk to and when we do, what should we say? All of them are very personable, but they felt this was stepping into a different realm.
For big corporations, spending $40 on a breakfast ticket can be a no-brainer expense that after time can be taken for granted. Employees attend — often grudgingly — and unless someone is looking for quantifiable outcomes, most often there won’t be any.
For small business owners, buying one, or in this case multiple tickets to an event whatever the cost, takes serious consideration. There is no expense account for reimbursement and if the hours spent are hours wasted, then the money would have been better spent on another marketing strategy — or for some entrepreneurs, on essentials like groceries.
Ideally, had we have started planning a bit sooner, I would have recommended attending some smaller events, so there would be familiar faces in the room. However, with two days to go, it was too late for that.
Depending on your perspective and mingling skills, events that attract more than 500 people are rather difficult to navigate. Without a foundation of known contacts to instigate effective introductions, a large crowd appears as a blur of strangers’ faces.
There were a few key strategies that could help in this situation.
It’s easier to meet the handful of early birds and let the crowd fill in around you.
Resist the temptation to stick together
Networking is about meeting new people, not hanging with your business partners. The three who attended committed to sit in every other seat so that there was always a new contact in between. This way, they tripled their conversation potential.
When introduced to someone, be prepared to pick up the ball and roll with the dialogue. You will just be another random friend of a friend if you don’t actually make your own connection.
Be clear and concise
We really had to spend some time drilling down their business model and what their service delivery was going to look like. Explaining too much about your work to a new contact can create confusion for your listener and, most likely, boredom.
If you consider saying “hello” to strangers bold, then I say go for it! Remember, the majority of people are there to network — so network. If they wanted to be alone, they would have stayed home. Make the most of the opportunity to interact with others — what have you got to lose?