- Know what your goal is before you walk in the door. Are you looking for appointments? If so, how many at this function? Do you need the answer to a question? Is there a particular person that you are trying to find? Or are you simply trying to meet and make a positive impression on as many people as possible?
- Have a planned introduction. Expect to be asked, "What do you do?" and possibly, "How did you get into that line of work?" You'll give a more credible impression if you don't stutter or stammer - that makes it sound like you don't know what you do. And for heaven's sake, don't become a candidate for On-And-On Anon! It's supposed to be a conversation, not a monologue. Answer the question and then ask one.
- Know whose agenda you're on. A client said to me the other day, "Well, that wasn't worth the time. All he wanted to talk about was his agenda - we never got to mine." When in doubt, refer to criterion #1. If your goal is to set a one-on-one appointment with this person, being on his agenda is fine if that leads to an appointment.
- The other networkers aren't prospects, they're suspects. You don't have enough information yet, nor have you earned the right yet, to present your product or service. This isn't a group sales meeting. Meet people, gather contact information and/or set a follow-up appointment, then move on. They are trying to do the same thing, so if you monopolize their time you'll erode their positive attention.
- Keep moving. If you want to talk to only one person, skip the networking event and make an appointment to talk with them at their office. If you're not meeting new people or refreshing acquaintances with as many as you can, you're squandering the networking opportunity.
- Help other people connect. Many of the other people at networking functions are uncomfortable, so you will do a service by helping them meet the people you know. Networking is about building a net of positive relationships, and when you help someone they will be likely to want to reciprocate.
- Learn some graceful exit techniques. You can excuse yourself to refresh your drink, or introduce two people and move on once their conversation has started. You can be creative as long as you're polite.
Networking is not a direct sales activity - it's a method to increase your pool of potential prospects, and a way to become known so that people can refer prospects to you. You might have to give several times before you're in the position to get. If you're too impatient about your own agenda you'll place yourself in the dreaded high-pressure salesperson role, and your increased visibility as an arm-twister will hurt, not help, your sales efforts.