Perfecting the art of mingling: 10 tips to become a better networker
Most people think they know how to network.
Find a gathering of people and meet as many as possible. Make the rounds with business cards in hand in search of new relationships that could lead to sales, jobs, partnerships or introductions.
Those are certainly the basics, but effective networking skills need to be practiced and perfected.
To be sure, networking comes naturally for some. Dropped amid a crowd of new faces, they act naturally, speak confidently and are friendly without being overly aggressive.
For others, it’s more of a challenge. They worry: Am I interesting enough? Will people care about what I have to say? Will I stand out in a crowd? What if I forget someone’s name?
Las Vegas is home to some of the best networkers around. In a transient town, savvy businesspeople have learned that their success depends on their ability to meet new people.
What’s their secret? Here are 10 tips for how to become a better mingler:
Know whom you’re trying to reach
Identifying a target audience can make networking more successful and efficient.
A startup entrepreneur, for example, might want to focus on angel investors. A tax attorney, on accountants.
For Reza Arshadi, owner of Presto Café, a juice bar and health food restaurant in southwest Las Vegas, his target audience is health-conscious consumers, so Arshadi visits local nightclubs to market his eatery to the staff.
“We target large functions such as food charity events and nightclubs,” Arshadi said. “People in the entertainment and nightlife industry have to be in shape and alert.”
Arshadi’s background also gives him a leg up, which he uses to his advantage.
“I have 10 years of nightlife experience in Las Vegas, which makes the networking a lot easier since I know many of the staff at most nightclubs,” he said. “We work from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at our cafe, then we head out to nightclubs to market our cafe till about 2 a.m.”
Business connections can be made practically anywhere, whether at a business gathering like a chamber of commerce mixer or association meeting, or at church, your child’s school or the gym.
“There’s really not a bad place to be networking,” said Jeff Brown, CEO of Cobalt Data Management. “Some of my best connections were made unexpectedly on airplanes and out on mountain biking trails.”
The key is being open to conversation, Brown said.
“I find that listening with enthusiasm opens a lot of doors,” he said.
Don’t give up
Don’t be discouraged if you leave a conference or mixer without landing new deals. Successful networking requires persistence.
That may mean going to an annual conference several years in a row or attending an organization meeting week after week.
The goal is to build enduring, trusting relationships that will survive over time.
Tori Abajian, director of business development for IT Strategies, said she attended the Gaming and Leisure Roundtable for three years before netting tangible dividends.
“Networking requires consistency to be effective,” Abajian said. “It takes more than one contact with a person to develop the trust and credibility that leads to a business relationship.”
Ron Sukenick, author of “21 Days to Success Through Networking,” said it takes at least a half a dozen interactions with a person to form a business relationship.
“If you can get up to six interactions with anybody, it’s likely you have a good beginning for a relationship that will never end,” Sukenick said. “Increased interaction gives increased cooperation. Repetition will build people’s reputation.”
Network with people who do what you do
New ideas tend to flow among people with similar job responsibilities. Work to connect with people in your industry or who hold similar jobs in a different field.
“As director of public relations and media relations for the Valley Health System, I network internally by visiting our five hospitals on a regular basis,” Gretchen Papez said. “I’ve also networked ... for health-related organizations, such as Las Vegas HEALS and HealthInsight. Another recent networking opportunity was a professional education course for PIOs (public information officers). It was nice to put faces with names and meet PIOs who work for different agencies at the local, state and federal level.”
Practice what you plan to say
Write and rehearse a short introduction that describes you, your business and what you can deliver. Keep it focused and concise.
“It is critical that business owners work on developing a 30-second elevator speech so they can convey the essence of their business quickly and effectively,” said Mya Lake Reyes, president of Maximum Meetings and the Gay Visitors Bureau.
But keep quiet sometimes, too
Although selling yourself is key in networking, be sure you don’t dominate a conversation.
“Always remember the person you are networking with also wants to talk about their business,” Reyes said. “Do not monopolize the allotted time just for yourself.”
“You need to take an interest in others,” Sukenick said. “I just love the whole giver’s game philosophy. The way I get ahead is I help others get ahead, and if we help one another, we all do better as a result.”
Consider the setting
Setting isn’t the most important part of networking, but it can set the mood and pace interactions.
“Networking is a lot more effective at social functions because once seated for meals, you are limited to engaging only with people at your table,” Reyes said. “At a social function, you can control the amount of time you want to spend with each person you meet.”
Some people, however, choose to schmooze and dine because of the intimacy and captive audience a dinner table creates. Others prefer conferences or association meetings for more structured introductions, while some cite a casual activity such as golf as their preferred approach.
Most networking experts agree, however, that environment is far secondary to interaction.
“I don’t think the context matters as much as just having uninterrupted face time,” said Bob Potts, research director at the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. “Quality time happens in the context of quantity time.”
Networking shouldn’t end when you leave an event.
“Handing out a business card is Step 1,” said Cara Clarke, communications director for the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce. “It’s what you do after handing out that business card that really matters.”
“Handing out business cards doesn’t work because business cards tend to get lost,” Arshadi said.
Instead, make an effort to schedule a follow-up meeting, lunch or outing.
Even a simple phone call or email can be effective. A note thanking a person for the time he or she spent getting to know you can go a long way in forming a long-term relationship.
Don’t jump the gun trying to make a sale or land a deal. Building lasting connections takes time.
“It’s one of the biggest mistakes you can make: going for the sale instead of the relationship,” Sukenick said.
Sukenick and Clarke both said that many people at networking events are too eager to jump into business relationships without developing rapport.
“If you try to dive right it, it may turn people off,” Clarke said. “And if you build a reputation as being someone who is pushy or drives into the hard sale, it’s going to hurt your opportunities to build a longer-term relationship.”
Embrace the Internet
Most businesspeople have become well versed in Facebook and Twitter.
But LinkedIn, advertised as a business networking tool, remains the red-headed stepchild.
Some tout the site as the best social media option for businesspeople. Others are confused by how it works.
Clarke admitted that while she was an early user of LinkedIn, she no longer uses it as extensively as other social media.
When used properly, LinkedIn can be one of the most valuable networking tools, Sukenick said.
“I like to do as much research as I can about people when I meet them, and I can find out a lot about a person’s background if they’ve filled in their profile information,” he said.
Sukenick recommended that people go beyond just accepting LinkedIn connections and spend time rounding out their profile with information about their background, experience and skills.