Tag along as Donna Messer, an expert networker demonstrates the effective art of networking.
It’s just before 7:00 a.m. it’s an early-riser business-and-education conference at the Metro Convention Centre. The attendees are a mix of over 800 entrepreneurs, educators employers and new graduates. Everyone has come to scout for clients, money, new contacts and jobs.
Donna Messer is one of the speakers, and she is not just there to speak, she is working the room, to meet as many potential new clients as possible. If there’s such a thing as a professional networker, it’s Messer, a business school lecturer and founder of ConnectUs, her company trains business leaders and MBA students to “network and get work”. As the conference begins, she straightens her badge, and strides into the crowd.
1. Know your audience.
Weeks before the event, Messer asked for a list of attendees. "That way I could do a little research on people I want to meet and use that information to break the ice with them," she explains. “Are these people entrepreneurs, educators, employers, funders or new graduates? I try to know as much as I can about the crowd before I get there.”
2. Be visible and travel light
Messer wears a tasteful red jacket with pockets. There are a huge number of navy and back suits here. She stands out in this colour, —but not in a bad way Her funky glasses perched on the top of her head, complete the picture. She pulls a small suitcase, which carries everything she will need for the day. Including plenty of business cards! Her jacket with two pockets is crucial, the right one for her business cards the left for those she collects. No fumbling. No giving out someone else’s card by mistake.
She moves through the throng of people confidently, smiling. Her stride is brisk, yet casual. She knows where she is going. Her jacket is open and her body language says “I’m approachable. “Many people tend to wait for someone to approach them but their body language isn’t sending the right message.” Powerful people come to these events because they want to meet other skilled, talented people. Carry yourself accordingly. Don’t fold your arms. Look like you’re having a good time.”
4. Start fresh.
Messer’s first stop is the long breakfast buffet— not because she’s hungry. “People tend to be very accessible around the food. Talking and eating go together. It’s a great way to get started at an event,” she says, carrying her juice in her left hand so she can shake with her right.
5. Who’s who
To scope out the crowd and pick her targets from the hundreds of attendees, Messer circles the large room once, quickly scanning name tags. “Don’t read name tags while talking to people. Always maintain eye contact.” Sideways glances make you look furtive and shifty.
6. Approach VIPs first
Messer always introduces herself to other speakers. Common courtesy and a great source of additional referrals. She darts over to one of the morning’s guest speakers, a Business School professor, 15 minutes before his presentation starts. “Keynote speakers love to talk and can be great contacts, but after they give their speeches they’re always swamped.”
7. One, two or three.
The room is crowded, so Messer next looks for people who are standing alone. An individual contact is one-on-one and makes the most effective networking. Smile as you approach.” “Be careful if you approach two people, she warns, they may be in conversation, not just chatting, and they won’t welcome a third party.” Groups of three or more, are easy to integrate, stand quietly until there is a lull in the conversation, then introduce yourself with a few well chosen words.
Messer approaches a man near the podium and very briefly tells him why she’s at the conference. “Hi. I’m one of the speakers, I wrote Effective Networking Strategies, the book you received with your registration package. We train people how to build their businesses and their careers, my name is Donna Messer.” She says her name at the end so he’s more likely to remember it. Then asks the question. “ How can I help you?”
When meeting others, she’s the first to extend her hand. “It’s an old protocol, a sign that you’re eager to interact. Practice your handshake, it says a great deal about you, make sure it’s firm and dry.
10. Get to know them
While talking with strangers, Messer asks open-ended questions to determine quickly how to maximize her opportunity. “The first meeting is about them, and I try to find a common denominator between us.”
11. Card exchange
Messer asks for a business card before she offers her own. “It’s less presumptuous.” She makes note of any follow up on the back of the card. The card go into her left pocket.
12. Who do you know?
After moving through the room twice, she spots the conference moderator, someone she would really like to know. He’s alone drinking coffee, but rather than approach him on her own, she enlists a colleague who knows him to make the introduction. “An intro is like an implicit endorsement, and the next time we meet, there will be that association and that context.”
The moderator mentions that he’s looking to get in touch with a professor from an American University, whom Messer happens to know. She offers to make an introduction. “Always try to be a connector, the person who brings people together,” she says. This not only makes Messer looked tapped in but may also make the moderator want to return her favour.
14. We came, we met, we will meet again.
After three hours, Messer has talked with at least two dozen new contacts. She makes her presentation, and gathers a huge list of additional contacts from her audience. She leaves the conference with plans to reconnect with everyone within the next week. “Remember, you’re not there to close deals or get a job. You’re there to get the right to follow up with a phone call, an email or a meeting. Maximize each opportunity, it makes the whole day worthwhile.”
Messer is a keynote speaker and conference moderator. She can be reached at www.connectuscanada.com