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Socializing & Networking, two different things

Often, our mentality at business events and conferences is that we’re there to take away something, whether it is information, education, or free samples while overlooking the potential for making connections that will further endeavors down the road.

Conferences and events offer prime opportunities for networking and, if you’re not intentional about it, you might miss many of the ways you can make new contacts and get the word out about your business.

Now, I am not saying walk in the room with a bullhorn and brag to everyone who you are and make it all about you. That would be like Connie Harper walking in a room shouting, “I am the editor of the Call & Post.” I can not count the number of times people ask about Connie Harper and even to this day John Lenar.

There are three people that you always want to be sure to network with at an event: the speaker, the event host/organizer, and the person doing registration and sign-in. The person at the front door sees everybody, including their name, and also is usually aware of where the host is and can point you in their direction.

Plus, it just starts you off on a positive note as you enter the room. You’re not a movie star hitting the red carpet. Your goal isn’t to make a grand entrance but to leave a wake of happy people behind you.

Networking is something all successful business people need to be skilled at if they want to establish new business relationships. If you’ve been to conferences seminars and other types of business events, no doubt you’ll have encountered numerous people who have been able to work a room.

For some, it just comes naturally. They have that type of personality to work in a room.

In other words, they seem to be able to introduce themselves and strike up a conversation with strangers seemingly effortlessly which, in turn, can open up business opportunities for them down the track.

However, what might surprise some people is that for many, networking doesn’t come easily and it takes plenty of practice to become good at it.

Networking is about meeting new people. If you’re going into conference sessions, don’t sit beside someone you’ve already met. Instead, sit next to different people all day long. This may mean you have to move out of your comfort zone: Attendees tend to stake out their spot at conference sessions but, normally, there’s no assigned seating.

You should move around during the day.

One of the first things you should know going to these events is to be prepared. I can still hear Don Graham telling everyone “make sure you have your business cards” to pass out. These events are just to get acquainted and to meet new people.

Don’t view these events as the chance to close a deal but rather as the chance to take the first step down the long, profitable road of friendship and mutual benefit with a new word-of-mouth marketing partner. The most important thing I can impart to you is that you must approach this with a sense of wanting to learn as much as you can about the other people you’ll meet instead of trying to tell them all about you.

It’s important to realize these things. You may think you are working the room, all while the room is talking about you. Of course, all of this good advice is worthless if you don’t engage in the critical follow-up process after the event.

So, plan time to make a phone call, schedule a lunch meeting, or set up an e-mail exchange by way of following up.

Networking Guru George Fraser has been trying to connect the dots for the African American community for a while now. Each year he has a Power Networking Conference in Atlanta (Cleveland had it for a while) that brings together a lot of great talent.

That first impression may mean a lot, not all can dress to impress quite as well as others but we should have formed some kind of image of how, as business people, we appear to others and how we would like to be perceived.

In other words, we’ll all have some kind of image about ourselves and how that image comes across to other people so it’s important to recognize and make the most of our physical attributes and attire to give off the desired impression when meeting other business people for the first time.

Many successful networkers will often tell you that having a specific goal in mind before heading for a conference or event helps them focus on what they want to achieve at the event itself.

So, it’s a good idea to set some goals before the event so that you don’t get sidetracked entirely at what’s happening on stage as the ‘meet and greet’ part of any business event is often even more important than any keynote addresses or speeches.

No matter how much we think we’re at the top of our field, there’s always room to learn

. People are different in so many ways and they do business in as many different ways. There can be myriad strategies for approaching any element of a business. Why reinvent the wheel when you can meet with peers and find out what they’ve learned through trial and error, what they’ve found to be best practices.

You are growing a relationship when you recognize someone for the valuable expertise they share at a conference. These presenters will appreciate you taking the time and you will gain relationship equity with them. They will, most likely, email you back, and thank you. Now, you can re-email them and let them know you will make sure you introduce yourself, in person, when you see them at the event.

A conference can be the highlight of your work year if you make the most of it. If you don’t already, learn to love conferences. They can provide you with all kinds of opportunities and great experiences. Plus, they can make your job more enjoyable and who wouldn’t love that?

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