Does the word ‘Networking’ strike fear into your heart? Do you hate walking into a room full of strangers? What has that got to do with blogging anyway?
When we talk about promoting our blogs we tend to think of what we can do online to push our content out. We Tweet, we share on Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest even Instagram. We build relationships online and people begin to share our content too.
Could walking into a room full of people also help you promote your blog?
This week we’re going to look at face to face networking, how to conquer the fear and build better relationships using your blog.
Trying Frederique Murphy’s STOP technique could help. Read more about that here.
How To Overcome Your Networking Fears
If you cringe when you hear the term ‘Networking’ you are not alone. I too dread networking opportunities but I tend to find it’s not half as scary when I arrive at a meeting or event as I thought it was going to be.
Networking in person has benefits way beyond promoting your blog. In many ways it mimics what we do online to build readership and community.
- We will meet people who can help pass business to us
- We will meet people who will become our customers
- We will meet people who are influential to our target market
I’m a reluctant networker but I’ve developed some strategies that make it more effective and we’ll look at how you can use your blog to leverage the connections you make.
Before I get onto that let me tell you a story:
I’m actually quite reluctant to share it as the memory still has me cowering with embarrassment.
As many of you might know, prior to starting my first business I used to work in the film industry in Ireland. I worked as an assistant director and breaking into the business isn’t an easy job. Like most careers in Ireland success very much depends on who you know.
I’d only been in the country a year when I started looking for work so I knew no one. I needed to find people and connect with them.
There was no Facebook, I didn’t have computer access and the internet was only for special people back then. All I had at my disposal was a phone and myself.
I learned that every month there was a ‘union meeting’ in Ardmore studios. Assistant directors would get together to assess submissions from new people wanting to get involved in the industry and to chat.
So I went to a meeting armed with my CV.
When I arrived there were 6 or 7 people in the room. I sat on my chair, terrified and listened to what was going on. The meeting ended, the bar opened so I made my move.
I approached one woman and handed her my CV “I’m a trainee” I said, “here’s my CV”. My voice was trembling, my hand was trembling, my face was white. I had the fear.
The woman took my CV turned her back on me and left.
It may not surprise you to hear that she didn’t hire me. Not then, not ever. I was hardly a picture of confidence.
It wasn’t the end of my career, I got better at it but I’ll never forget that day.
If only I could go back in time now and instruct my younger self. I’m pretty sure I could have made a friend and gotten hired.
Luckily in 2017 we have a lot of tools at our disposal that make networking easier. I’d never approach a stranger today the way I did back then. I’d have done my research and I’d be prepared.
[Tweet “To ensure you don’t end up alone with your phone make plans in advance”]
Preparing for a networking event
There’s nothing worse than arriving at an event and not knowing anyone. The fear sets in. Luckily in the age of the smart phone we can pretend we’re looking at something important on our phone but if we spend too long doing this we’re missing opportunities.
To ensure you don’t end up alone with your phone make plans in advance. Use your social networks to find out who is going to the event and connect with them. Open a conversation online and arrange to meet.
Now when you walk in the door you will be on a mission, you are looking for the people you have arranged to meet. You might even meet other people in the process.
Some events send you a list of attendees beforehand, others have Facebook, LinkedIn or Slack groups. These are good places to strike up conversations.
If you don’t get this info follow the hashtag on Twitter and Instagram. Who is tweeting about the event? Send your own tweets including the tag to find out who is going.
Check the social media accounts for the event itself and get involved in the conversations on their pages.
At the event
The event hashtag and accounts are your friends.
I’ve had the best conversations whilst sitting on a train, bus or tram on the way to an event. Start following the hashtag and get involved in the pre-event buzz. Tweet, Snap, Instagram or Facebook a selfie on route and interact with others who are doing the same.
Sharing a selfie makes you easy to identify and you’ll spot some familiar faces from the feed when you arrive. You’ll feel more comfortable approaching them as you’ve been talking online already.
This interaction can continue when you arrive. Keep an eye on the hashtag and find out who else is in the room. Don’t just follow, tweet and interact with people. Arrange to meet up in the break.
Many networkers advocate meeting as many people as possible at an event. There are even ‘Speed networking’ events where you get to talk to people for 60 seconds each.
These might be good ice breakers but I find it more valuable to get to know one or two people better rather than 20 briefly. If you’ve already made a connection on social media you’ll know a little bit about each other and the in-face meeting will just solidify your relationship.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try and meet new people, set a goal to meet at least 2 new people at every event you go to.
I think one of the most intimidating thing about going to a network meeting is wondering what you should say. I was certainly struck dumb at that union meeting.
Here are a few tactics that can help you cope:
1. Ask people about themselves
When you ask someone about themselves you are tapping into a wealth of conversation and making a good first impression. It’s flattering to know that someone is interested enough in you to ask. Listen carefully to what they say and if they seem comfortable talking ask them some more.
Be careful of turning into an interrogator. If someone seems uncomfortable talking change the subject, talk about the weather the catering or find some common ground they are more comfortable with.
I got talking to a guy in the food queue at a conference once. It was clear straight up that his line of conversation wasn’t suited to my business yet he persisted to ask me question, upon question. I felt quite intimidated and although I did manage to turn the conversation into holidays in New York eventually I was sure to avoid him for the rest of the event.
Don’t’ be that guy.
Have your conversation starters prepared in advance. You’ve already identified on social media who is going to be there. Before you go to the event make a list of them and do a bit of research. Did they write or share a blog post recently that you can bring into the conversation? Do they talk about their pets, hobbies or family online? If so these could be great conversation starters. I’ve built many relationships after talking to fellow cat lovers.
When I went to that union meeting and met the woman it wasn’t just my hard sell that was a turn-off. It was the terrified expression on my face.
These days I’m a big fan of the term ‘fake it until you make it’. The last thing you feel like doing when you enter a room full of strangers is smiling but a big smile will make you appealing, people will want to talk to you. Go to the bathroom before you walk in and plaster a smile on your face, you’ll ooze confidence when you walk in the room even if you aren’t feeling it at first.
4. Look for others who are struggling
Because I have struggled with face to face relationships in the past I’m overly sensitive to others who look like they may be experiencing the same thing. If I see someone standing nervously by themselves I tend to go and chat to them. I’ve met some amazing people that way. If you are in a group bring that person into the group, you’ve made a new friend and alleviated their discomfort.
5. Important conversation topics
Once you’ve got someone to open up and tell them about themselves and their business tell them about what you do and find out if they have any challenges in that area. You’re not going to sell to them straight away but by understanding their challenges now will give you some great blog post topics and fodder for later.
6. Get a card, a Twitter handle or and email address
There’s not point networking at an event if you aren’t going to nurture that relationship. Don’t let those few hours at a meeting be wasted. Get a business card, email or Twitter handle so you can stay in touch. And when I say get an email address don’t add that to your mailing list. Networking meetings are about building individual relationships, you can persuade them to sign up to your list later.
Business cards are handy because you can scribble some notes on it later whilst your meeting is still fresh in your head. Many networkers recommend doing this during the meeting but unless your jotting down something you need to send them as a follow up I find this makes for an uncomfortable moment.
The notes you make should include:
- What they looked like – it’s so hard to remember faces if you meet a lot of people in the day
- What you talked about
- Questions and challenges they had about what you do and your industry
- Anything you told them you’d follow up with.
After the event
Now you’ve met people you should follow up your connection. When you get home Tweet them, connect with them on LinkedIn or drop them an email saying how nice it was to meet.
Look back at the info you jotted down about them. What topics did you discuss? What challenges did they have? Can you share a link with them from your blog that will help? If you haven’t written about that topic yet is there another helpful article you can share?
If you haven’t blogged on the topic could you? If people you are asking this question other potential customers are looking for the answers too.
I’m sure your new connection will be delighted that you have created a bit of content just for them that solves their problem. Make sure you share it with them first. They’ll appreciate the gesture and there’s a good chance that they’ll share it with their network and remember you when they find someone needing what you do.
Just because face to face marketing happens offline it doesn’t mean it’s not an opportunity to promote your blog and gather ideas. The people you meet in real life could well become your strongest advocates in the future.
Next time you get an invite to a local chamber networking meeting or go to a conference don’t back away from the opportunity.
Find out in advance who is going, plan to meet people, connect with them on social media and attend.Don’t forget to make notes about the people you meet so you can continue to build the relationship when you get home.
What about you?
Do you love networking or hate it? What tactics have you put in place to make it easier? I’d love to hear your thoughts below.
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