27 January 2012

Networking Parties: Love ‘em or hate ‘em, good preparation makes them better

Networking parties are one of the most common ways for business people to make new contacts. A little preparation goes a long way to improving the quality of the contacts that you make and your general level of enjoyment at the function. I hope you find these tips useful and would like to hear your tips and advice.

Choose events that will help fulfill your goals
You can choose from an almost unlimited number of networking functions and it is important to choose appropriately. By asking the following questions, you are able to select events that are the right size, have the right audience, and increase the likelihood of you having a successful event.
  • Generally, is the target audience appropriate to your needs? Are you likely to meet people that will help you with your goals or business? For example, is it a networking party for your target customers? Or is it a general party intended to bring together a varied group of people? Or is it an event to hear an interesting speaker? What kind of audience will attend? Ask the organiser or check their website.
  • Specifically, who will be there? You can ask the organiser for a guest list, which they may or may not provide, or a description of the type of people they have invited. Or you can ask your friends if they will be there. Often, you can invite some of your own guests to join you at the event.
  • Who are the organisers? Is it a professional association? Do they have a good reputation? Have you been to their events before?
  • Are you comfortable with the size of the event? Do you prefer big events or more intimate gatherings? Some people are overwhelmed in a room with a 100 people while others find bigger groups more stimulating. 

Prepare how you are going to introduce yourself
Being articulate about your role and reasons for being at the function is very important and goes a long way to making a good first impression. Think about how you are going to introduce yourself in one or two sentences, what you would say in a couple of minutes, and what else you want people to know if they show interest.
Most people are self-conscious about preparing an introduction about themselves, but it is critically important because it makes it easier to get to know you. And you need to practice it before the party!! The worst thing is asking someone what he does and he leans back and says “well, where shall I begin” or “that is hard to say, this could take a while to explain”.
If you are shy, it is doubly important. A prepared response will give you time to come to grips with meeting someone new. You can end the sentence with “and what do you do?” to throw the conversation back to the other person if you like.
If you are chatty or gregarious, like me, a prepared introduction will give you a clue when to stop talking and give the other person a chance.

I prepare different introductions depending on the target audience and what I want people to know about me – they certainly do not need to know everything. My introduction is linked to my business goals and target audience, and I practice it enough to make it sound spontaneous.
These are my current introductions and you will notice that they vary with the audience:
  • My general introduction is: “I’m Cathy Delhanty and I do two things. My consulting company helps businesses grow by bringing investors and projects together. And my networking company helps people meet each other. They are essentially the same skills!
  • If I am talking to consulting prospects, I say: “I’m Cathy Delhanty and Point 6 helps businesses grow. Sometimes I advise investors who want to buy companies, sometimes companies need introductions to investors, and sometimes I help with Business Development and Sales. Growth is a very positive business to be in!
  • Most of the people I meet are not candidates for my consulting, but for the networking company, so I say: “I’m Cathy Delhanty and I have two companies. In one I do business growth consulting and in the other I help people improve their networking skills. Right now I am writing an ebook called The Networking Workshop because I love networking and want to help people do it better!

Prepare your business cards
I get a bit preachy about business cards. This is partly an effect of working in Asia, where business cards are extremely important, and partly from general experience. Your card is important because it makes it easier for people to learn your name, to contact you, and remember you later.
Your business cards should be crisp and clean, accurate, and up-to-date. Updating your title, email address, and phone number in pen on a printed card is not cool. And I am continually amazed when people hand me old, dirty-looking cards with folded corners and sometimes someone else’s phone number written on the back.
Make sure you have sufficient business cards and make sure you bring them with you to the event! Your business cards represent you and if you forget them, you do not look prepared. About one third of the people I meet have forgotten (deliberately or accidentally) to bring their cards to the event. Others bring only a handful of cards which means that they run out after the first 10 minutes. It is too bad to be out of cards when you meet a great new contact.

Prepare some topics for conversation
Prepare a few questions and answers for the people you will meet. These are the questions that I am often asked and want to ask other people. Having both the questions and answers ready makes conversation flow more smoothly:
  • What do you do exactly? / This is what I do exactly
  • Why did you start your business or how long have you worked at your company? / This is why I started my business
  • Is there a story behind your company name? / This is the story behind my company name
  • How could you help my business? / This is how can I help your business
  • Where are you from? / This is how I ended up living in the Netherlands (because I am not Dutch).

If there is a specific person that you expect to be there, check their website and look for news on their company just before the party. They will be impressed with your efforts and up-to-date information.

To help conversations flow better, prepare some other things to talk about. Have a look in the latest edition of an industry journal for something new and interesting, check the latest news, or practice a good joke or a funny story. Conversation is not always easy and I personally do not want to rely on someone I just met to be a great conversationalist.

Prepare your follow up material
If you prepare follow-up material before the party, you will be able to respond to your new contacts quickly. If you are looking for a job, have a completed draft of your resume ready to be customised for the prospective employer you hope to meet at the party. Sales people should have product information and white papers ready to go. If you are prepared to talk about an interesting article you read, be prepared to send the link or a PDF to your new contact if they are interested. I prepare summaries of current investment opportunities. And so on. Quick follow-up will not only make a good impression, but it will help you turn a new contact into a new relationship.

What are your best preparation tips? I am very interested in learning what works best for you and how you prepare for networking events. And, of course, what happened when you tried out my tips.

There is only one chance to make a first impression.

Talk soon


  1. No doubt the first impression is big. In the financial services industry, we nearly never close on the first meeting, so proposing some value to encourage a second more detailed meeting is the key to getting interest generated.

    The first meeting is a good time to learn more, build some trust and offer some ideas. Getting someone interested to the point where you can hopefully meet them again and truly try to give them some value -- that's where the true potential of doing real business begins.

    Thanks Cathy, good luck here!

  2. Hi Rob, thanks for your comment. It has inspired the next post: Always get the next meeting!