So what is different about networking at a luncheon? There may be no difference to the type of speaker or the network in general but the guests attending will most certainly have other factors impacting on their attendance. The key for this type of event is to be organized, clear and open to new connections as the following tips will explain.
Plan your time
For so many reasons, and not just for networking, a good diary system is essential. Success, more often than not, comes from planning, organization and clear, determined goals and vision.
Plan the time in your diary when you book for the luncheon. Allow time for travel to and from the venue to ensure that you arrive early and have time to continue good discussions at the end of the event. On the day of the event set your alarm on your mobile phone to remind you to leave and then make sure you do! It is very easy to get heard up in the day's activities and be late to the event, therefore wasting a very valuable opportunity.
Realize how important it is to attend each event in a positive frame of mind. If you know you will need 'wind-down' time between work and the luncheon then allow for this in your diary and de-stress with a meditation CD in the car on the way there or make time for a solo coffee beforehand.
After each event, diarise follow up calls, reminders and advance notes about who to catch up with at the next event. There's nothing more embarrassing or damaging to new relationships than to make a connection with a guest guest at one event and forget their name at the next!
Know why you are networking
When is the last time you really sat down and articulated your goals – on paper, visually and verbally? If you like me this is one thing that is always put in the too hard basket and one that does not appear to service the business immediately and therefore gets pushed to the bottom of the to do list. I used to struggle with this until a good friend said "make an appointment with yourself and give yourself the same credit you give to your clients". It was then that I realized that I was my most important client because it was me that kept my business going. Now I schedule time regularly to consider my goals, congratulate myself for what I have achieved (usually involving a very good bottle of wine or a very big block of chocolate!), And set timelines for what I want to achieve in the future.
So what is the benefit of this to a networker? Knowing where you are headed brings a certain confidence and energy that others really do pick up on and somehow you seem to attract what you are looking for. It also means that you are clear on what you're trying to achieve when you're talking to other guests. People can not help you unless they know what you need!
Do not be afraid to say hello to a stranger – that is, after all, why you are there! It is also likely that the person you meet is just as nervous as you are! If you see someone standing alone looking like a nervous first-timer make the effort to draw them into your conversation and they will be thankful for the helping hand.
At sit-down events with open seating, try to sit with people you have not met before and invite the person you met in the foyer to join you if he or she is alone. Try to get the whole table involved in a discussion rather than just the person next to you. Robyn Henderson, a master networker, says to "act like the host" and invite those at the table to introduce themselves in turn. You could begin by asking everyone what bought them to the luncheon that day. This is a great way to learn more about the motivation of each guest at your table and what they hope to achieve by attending. Take it a step further by asking what each person does – I guarantee there will be some form of synergy around the table between at least two of the guests. There really is just six degrees of separation!
Look before you lunch
Evaluate the opportunities for networking around you. Look at industry associations, business networking groups, special interest groups and so on. Also look at networking groups that your typical client may belong to. The Internet is a great place to begin your search and the phone book also lists industry associations and networks.
Choose networks that fit with your interests and area of business. Create a short list of networks that you can attend regularly and that literally fit into your monthly calendar. If your time is limited it is preferred to attend one network regularly, rather than try to spread yourself over a few networks every so often.
Remember that networking is not only about meeting people – by attending events with guest speakers you'll get regular motivational injection and learn something too. Networking events can also be a cost-effective and unusual way to reward your staff and thank your clients.
Follow up sooner rather than later
Use the afternoon to complete your follow up activity for guests you met at the luncheon. Maybe even carry on for coffee after the lunch with a few new contacts. Guests leaving the function will go straight back to their daily activities and the normality of life and, unless you establish the connection, your foundation on which to build a relationship will be very weak. Take the time to nurture your new contacts and who knows where they may lead?