Last night I attended a local networking event. Lately, I’ve been skipping most events for a variety of reasons. The biggest reason is ROI (return on investment) of my time. After working a full day, creating solutions, guiding clients, I’m ready to unwind and be with the family, or go for a walk. I’m an introvert, meaning I recharge with quiet time. A dear friend invited me to join her at this new local group of women business owners. Knowing the typical make-up of these groups, I usually skip, but she’s someone I love spending time with and thought, “why not?” I was reminded of the basics of networking in person at ANY type of event, including family gatherings, school functions, holiday parties and business focused events. Here’s my basic kit for you and why:

  1. BUSINESS CARDS. Although there are those who think they are passé, they are not. A business card provides a quick connection and allows you to make notes on the spot for follow up. They do no good if you do not follow up that evening or the next morning. Only ask for a card if you will follow up. Do not SHOVE your cards at those who do not ask for it. Extend your hand instead. When ordering cards – 250 at a time is fine! Make sure you aren’t using mouse-type – beef up the size a bit on your NAME, PHONE and EMAIL. If you have your mission statement or one-line pitch on it, make it easy to read and keep your card from being cluttered. A matte finish on the back allows people to make a note. Include your name, phone and email on both sides so when it is on their desk facing “down” they still know it’s you.
  2. A NICE PEN. Invest in a nice pen, one without the logos of local nail salons, hair salons, oil change shops. If you cannot afford a NICE pen, at least order one from VistaPrint with your name and logo on it. Have a few handy to share with people who forgot their own pens. Test the pen before you head to the event. It’s distracting to watch someone making swirls and shaking down the ink of a tacky, old pen.
  3. CLEAN HANDS. Sounds obvious, but it’s not. Some events serve you finger foods, including chocolates and berries. They end up under your fingernails and on your hands. Unless you are able to manage a free hand for shaking, one for a beverage and balance a small plate and napkin, you will be challenged to focus on the people in front of you. Park your plate and glass if you can, or eat before you arrive. If you eat there, be sure to do a hand and finger check, wipe your mouth and then put it all down to focus on the people and what they are saying. Check your nails and cuticles before you leave the office or your house. No polish is better than chipped or worn polish. Ragged or bloody cuticles are GROSS. Put some UNSCENTED lotion on. The small wrinkle reducers they put in gift packs from cosmetic companies like Clinique are GREAT on the cuticles.
  4. A SMILE. A smile without food and bad breath is a must. Look at people in the eyes – FOCUS on what they are saying. They will remember you because you made them feel great. Have MINTS or GUM handy. You don’t want people looking for the exit as you laugh with them, share a story and engage. If you drink coffee, have a dry mouth, women on a cycle, stressed, many ethnic foods – you need a mint at the least! Better to pass on the coffee or cocktail and drink water to keep your mouth fresh. Put a lime in it if you want to be festive. Be sure to have some at the ready to discretely offer to your networking friends. I’d thump my pal if she didn’t do that for me if I was offending!
  5. GLASSES. If you need reading glasses, bring them. You may need them for event handouts, mouse-type on business cards, name tags and more.
  6. RELATABLE STORIES. Most of the time we are there to listen and gather information. When it is good timing to slip in a story, make it something short, memorable and without a bunch of your industry jargon. Most of us have our stock, crowd-pleaser stories for new people or a new audience. Bring out the good ones. If you’ve met the folks before, they’ve heard those stories. Tell something from the week that is lightly personal and business related. You are creating relationships.
  7. PRESENCE. PHONE? You’ll see I did not include one in the photo. I check my phone if my kids are home alone – I walk away from the group and do it. When I’m with the group, I do not have it in my hand and I definitely do not check it while others are speaking to me. BE PRESENT, be respectful, be kind, be remembered.

The purpose of networkings can be multi-faceted. It can be to get more clients, create strategic partners, have conversations not involving the kids’ school and sports, fine-tune your speaking in public to prepare for a bigger event, find a job, share your cause or upcoming charitable event, recruit. Your time is valuable, as is the time of the other attendees and speakers.