Do you find yourself at networking events wondering if it’s really worth your time to be out of the office?

As a small business owner, you know networking is important. But how do you make it more effective…and more fun? Here are 5 tips to improve your networking skills.

1. Create your game plan

You’ve picked an event to attend. You had your reasons for choosing this event. (Hopefully, you considered the size/scope, the likely attendees, and the type of event!) Now, how do you create a game plan for effect networking?

  1. Pick a number of people you’d like to meet. Maybe it’s 3; maybe it’s 10. (Start small, and pick a number that feels right to you!)
  2. Choose your mindset. That’s right. Mindset matters. You might have to pump yourself up. You might have to meditate. Choose a mindset that works for you, so you feel energized and ready to meet new people.
  3. Think through your conversation entrance and exit strategies. Thinking through this ahead of time will save your nerves and your patience! We’ll talk about entrance strategies next, but for your exit, choose an approach that works for you. For example: “It’s been great talking with you. I look forward to our follow-up. I’m off to meet my next new friend! Enjoy the event.”

2. Prepare three talking points

We talked about exit strategies above, but how about your approach to conversation with each new person? Make it simple. Prepare three talking points that you’ll use with each new person you meet.

  1. Lead with a question. Pick an open-ended question and something that gets your new contact talking. It could be direct – “What do you do for work and why do you like it?” (The why part of that question is gold!) or maybe more indirect – “Why have you chosen to attend this event and what are you hoping to accomplish?” (It takes the pressure off both of you, and puts you in co-conspirator strategizing mode.) Find a question that works for you and will be appropriate for everyone you meet. Just get that conversation started!
  2. Nail your 30-second elevator pitch. You know it. You’ve heard this before. Challenge yourself to get it down to 30-seconds. Leave them wanting more. Be clear, concise, & fun.
  3. Prepare an ask. Let’s assume your conversations go well. At least some people will ask how they can help you. Be ready! Share your ideal customer profile or talk about an upcoming event or sale. Be specific; not general. Offer something they can actually do!

3. Build meaningful connections

Even if it is a business networking event, we’re all still human. At our core, we want to connect in meaningful ways with others. Make this your focus, and both you and the new people you meet will benefit.

You’ve got your three talking points. Your first couple conversations have gone well. Try taking it to the next level. How do you create more meaningful connections?

  1. Ask follow-up questions. As your new contact is talking, focus on what they’re saying instead of trying to respond. Ask follow-up questions. It’s simple. If you don’t know what to ask, use the questions of your childhood – why (do you like that)? how (did you do that)? what (comes next for you)? This shows true interest in what the other person is saying.
  2. Look for common ground. You can approach every conversation noticing differences or looking for similarities. If you focus on the latter, the conversation will quickly be more meaningful (for you both). Try finding 3 things that you share as the person is talking. Comment on those things. Connect.

4. Be a connector

Speaking of connecting, a really great tip that will set you apart from others is learning the art of connecting other people.

Let’s say your first conversation goes really well. That person sell insurance to small businesses. Your third conversation is with a doctor who has just opened his own practice. Connect those dots. Ask person three if they’ve met person one. If they haven’t, go out of your way to connect them on the spot.

When you do this, you benefit both people. You show that you’ve been listening and that you are someone who adds value. They will each remember your thoughtfulness and be more inclined to help you.

*Bonus – notice how good this simple act feels!

5. Own the follow-up

Own the follow-up; own the day! Why go to networking events and meet new people if there isn’t a next step? You can give your business card out all you like, but will anyone reach out? Here are a few tips for “owning the follow-up”:

  1. State your intention. When you exit a conversation, offer this, “I’ll send you an email so we have each other’s contact information. I look forward to connecting further.” Then, do it!
  2. Create a 24-hour rule. We’ve all done it. We have the best intentions, but a week goes by, or maybe two, and then it’s just awkward. Send a very short note within 24-hours.
  3. Add value. Offer your new contact something of value in your email. A link to an article you think they’d enjoy, an invitation to a future event, or a possible referral (this last one is gold!).

Networking is part of being a small business owner. Hopefully, these tips will help you be more effective and also make networking more enjoyable!