Soon after I joined Telemundo’s local station in Los Angeles to manage its Media Relations department, I was also assigned the responsibility of Community Relations and the production of a Public Affairs show. Under my new role it was vital that I build relationships with Hispanic community leaders in this growing market. Thus, I began to attend what would be an endless stream of networking events. Armed with a purse full of business cards, I’ll never forget the first time I had to face a room full of complete strangers.
Through time, I developed important skills to make the most out of these opportunities, and I can affirm that about 40% of the business partnerships I established for the station began at these events rather than at the office. So how do you put networking to work for you?
- Define your objective. If you think that the sole purpose of attending networking events is to meet new people, then you’re wasting a valuable opportunity. Before you go into any event, you need to define what you want to accomplish. You need to be clear on what it is that you’re trying to achieve through your attendance. Are you seeking to grow your business? Are you aiming to develop new partnerships? Or maybe you’re looking for a new job? Whatever your goals or objectives are, it is important that you define them.
- Know your target audience. The key to achieving your objective is knowing who you need to target and spending your valuable time on those individuals. Don’t try to meet as many people as possible and spam everyone with your business cards. Get to know who the people are that can have a positive impact on your goals. If possible, try to find out in advance who will be at a networking event and “zero in” on the individuals with whom who you think it would be advantageous to develop a professional relationship.
- Use time wisely. All networking events have a limited window of opportunity, so you need to work the schedule wisely. Arrive early. An ideal time to speak with people is while they’re waiting for the event to begin. Once the program starts it’s almost impossible to discuss anything with depth, but don’t make the mistake of leaving when it ends. I would say that most of my “deals” were done after the events were finished, and usually at the bar where I would join a group that would stay for a drink. It doesn’t matter if you drink or not, the point is that you put yourself at the right place, at the right time. Also important is to be able to present who you are and what you do in a memorable but concise manner, typically thirty seconds or less.
- Cultivate. Trust is the key to networking. You need to cultivate the relationships that you form and gain their confidence. Find overlapping areas of interest whether they are work related or not, and become a resource for the people that you meet. You need to invest in them, if you expect them to invest in you.
- Connect the dots. Be a good listener in order to become aware of the projects that they’re currently working on, to understand what their needs are and to see if there are synergies. The person who earnestly tries to be of value to another in a business relationship is most likely to receive a referral in return. In addition, remember that just as you are trying to meet your objectives, so are they. This ability to “discover” possibilities that are mutually beneficial is by far one of the most important aspects of networking.
- Follow up. As is often said among professional networkers, “the fortune is in the follow up.” Networking doesn’t end at the exit door. If you want to see results, then you need to follow up and follow through quickly and efficiently. Don’t wait until they have forgotten who you are.