Networking to your Advantage

Networking – the word frequently used to justify attendance at a conference, exhibition or other event, and rarely (in my opinion) is this what people actually do.

When I visit golf industry conferences and events (and those who know me will tell you I have been to quite a number over my 28 years in the business), I see people chatting to their friends, walking around with colleagues, having a drink with people they already know well, and this is hardly ‘networking’ as it should be.

To those who would like to attend more conferences and exhibitions, but find their boss (and we all have a boss – even golf course owners!) just thinks that attending the event is just an excuse for a knees-up, then here are some tips:

•    Always take plenty of business cards with you.  I despair when I ask someone for their card only to be told ‘I forgot to bring them with me’ or ‘I just gave away my last one’.  Have a large number in your pocket ready to give them away.
•    Always ask for a business card from someone you have not met before – or someone who has a new role or is working for a new company.  Keep these and collect them.
•    If you are attending the event with a friend or colleague, split up.  Arrange a time and place to meet them later, but walk around alone.  If you are part of a larger group, make sure that you split up into at least pairs, do not walk around in groups of 3, 4 5 or more from the same organisation.
•    Try not to interrupt a conversation, but do not be shy about introducing yourself to someone new.  Tell them your name and the organisation that you represent, and ask them about the organisation they work for.  If they sound interesting, keep the conversation going by asking more questions, if they are of no interest to you, make an excuse, saying goodbye politely and move on.
•    When you meet interesting people, who work for organisations that you are interested in (maybe you are selling something and they are potential customers), make sure you show an interest in THEM.  Do not rush in to give them your best sales pitch straight away.   Sell yourself and your company by asking questions and LISTEN to the answers.  This will help you when you come to make your sales pitch, which should be at another time and place – not on the exhibition floor or at the bar.  Get an appointment confirmed if you can, if not, agree a time when you can call them to arrange an appointment.
•    When socializing at a business function, say attending a dinner, split up from your friends and colleagues and sit alongside someone you have not met before.  You will have plenty of time after the event to have dinner with your friends, but perhaps only one shot at sitting next to a potential client, or maybe the boss of a company that you would like to work for one day.
•    If you are not a natural comedian, and find it difficult to make people laugh, don’t try.  To engage in social chat, make sure you have a couple of very short anecdotes, stories that you have witnessed or been involved in, that may be funny or unusual.  I know many people who get very nervous in group discussions, and many will rehearse a couple of stories, even have a reminder card in their pocket or handbag if their memory is prone to lapses – usually at the most embarrassing moment.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, write up a short report after each event you visit and give this to your boss.  If you do not have a boss (maybe you are the boss), write it up anyway, to show your team members how it should be done.

This report should give details of the date and venue of the event, list everyone you met (you have their business cards); potential leads to follow up, news you heard, information that could be useful and all other information.   If the event was an educational event (a seminar or workshop), list what were the key learning outcomes, what was new information, what you could now implement at your club to boost revenue or reduce costs, and all other lessons learned.  Your boss is very unlikely to refuse your request to attend an event if he can see the clients and potential clients that you met, the appointments that you secured and the value of the business that you have generated for your club.

See you at the next golf industry event !!