By Ramon Ray –

People networkingYou know that attending networking events is important for the growth of your business, but are you getting the most out of them?

Many entrepreneurs go armed with a bunch of business cards and a goal of getting them into the hands of as many people as possible. That strategy doesn’t work.

If you’re not sure how to make your networking events more productive and useful, here are three surefire ways:

1. Make a Goal

A networking event is a business meeting, right? And you wouldn’t go into a business meeting without a goal in mind. For a typical business meeting, your goal might be to close a sale. Except networking is a different kind of business meeting. It’s not about making sales. Think about it. Have you ever wanted to buy something from someone the first time you met them? Unlikely. You may have heard of the Marketing Rule of 7. It states that, on average, a potential buyer needs seven interactions with your brand before making a purchase.

In fact, your best goals for networking events are to make new or strengthen existing connections. Here are some examples:

• Meet three people in complementary businesses — you may be able to share ideas and refer business to each other

• Meet a well-respected expert in your industry — you may be able to further the connection by meeting and discussing ways to collaborate on projects

• Reconnect with folks you haven’t seen in a while — to keep up friendships and remind each other about your businesses

2. Check Your Outfit and Body Language

Certain industries, and the events associated with them, might have a typical dress code (you may see more suits and conservative outfits with attorneys than with those in the fashion industry). If you’re not sure, contact the event organizer and ask for the dress code, or what attendees typically wear. Otherwise, do your best to look professional and approachable, and make sure you’re comfortable with whatever you wear.

Your body language needs to be friendly too. Vanessa Van Edwards, author of Captivate: The Science of Succeeding With People, offers some tips:

• Keep hands visible
• Roll your shoulders down and back so you seem relaxed
• Smile when you see someone you know or want to meet
• Make eye contact when you walk towards them or when you say hello

3. Plan Your Conversations

Once you’re in front of each other, you need to get the conversation started. I was surprised to learn that, according to Van Edwards, research shows that the most effective conversation starter is, “Hello, how are you?” I’m pretty sure anyone can do that!

Here’s mine: What’s one reason you’ve been successful?

Some of Van Edwards’ favorite conversation starters include:

• What was the highlight of your day today?
• Working on anything exciting lately?
• Tell me about you

Note: During these conversations, do more listening than talking. Dale Carnegie tells a story in How to Win Friends and Influence People about a time when he spent hours listening to a botanist at a dinner party, and only said a few words himself. At the end of the night, the botanist told the host that Carnegie was a “most interesting conversationalist.”

Bottom line: Being a good listener is important to making great conversation and strong connections.

Looking for more networking tips? Check out the Smart Hustle podcast where I interviewed Adrian Miller, of Adrian’s Network, on the Ins and Outs of Business Networking.

Moving Forward

I hope these tips will help you feel excited about your next networking opportunity. Who knows what opportunities will open up for you!

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Ramon RayAbout the Author: Ramon Ray is an entrepreneur who started four companies (and sold two), a best-seller author (his latest book is “Celebrity CEO”), a keynote speaker, the founder of Smart Hustle Media, and Entrepreneur in Residence at Alice.