When someone introduces themselves to you, look at their name tag to provide a visual cue in case their name is hard to understand or pronounce. (I like the Network After Work events because they provide color coded name tags by industry, so you can take a good long look at someone’s name tag and it just seems like you’re trying to get more information about which industry they’re in.)
Then once you’ve seen and heard their name, make a mental note of a defining characteristic that you can use as a mental cue to remember them. Noticing something like unique bright necklace that someone is wearing will help you to remember them at that event, but probably won’t help you to remember them in the future when they may be dressed differently. So try to pick something that may stick around a little longer as well, like glasses or a haircut. Then repeat it in your head a few times to try to get it to stick – like “Karen – tropical necklace, asymmetrical blonde hair.” Similarly, you can associate the person with someone you already know like “Julie – like my neighbor, but taller.”
I know this may seem like a no brainer, but it’s really not. Focusing on what people are saying can actually be incredibly hard. At networking events with crowds of people jostling to talk to each other it can get really distracting. Some venues like restaurants and bars are particularly loud and some events really pack people in, causing you to lose focus easily.
I always plan on wearing something decently comfortable (but still professional looking) and carrying as little with me as possible (I leave my giant purse behind) to minimize my own personal distractions. Then once I’m at the event I just try to tune out everything else going on around me so that I can concentrate on what someone new is telling me.
Another trick to being a better listener is choosing an area that’s a little less loud or crowded. Usually the space by the bar or food is pretty packed, but going just a few feet away can give you an opportunity to have good conversations with people where it’s less frenetic.
Keep Business Cards in Chronological Order
My #1 tip is to get a business card from anyone you talk to and then keep them in order of when you talked to each person. I have a business card holder that I use to carry my own cards and also store the cards I get so that when I get home and sit down to follow up with new connections, I can remember who each one belongs to. This works well with my brain, because even though I have a hard time remembering people’s names, I’m usually able to place people in my head based on when I talked to them.
Make Notes Immediately After
With your business cards in chronological order, make notes after the event on sticky notes and attach them to each card. Briefly jot down what you talked about to provide a mental trigger to help you remember each person. I take extra care to make notes of things that people mentioned about their professional and personal lives so that I can use those specifics later on when I follow up with them. You’ll be tired and this will probably be the very last thing you want do, but it will really pay off in the long run.
Follow Up with an Email the Next Day
The following day send an email to each person that you met with at least one specific that will make them realize you were really paying attention to what they were saying. (This is where the notes that you took right after the event come in handy!) Being specific can help create a personal connection and endear you to them for the future. Think about it, which makes a better impression?
“It was great meeting you last night! Let me know if you want to talk about your marketing needs at some point.” or “It was great meeting you at <insert name of event> last night. I really enjoyed hearing about how your business is planning to launch new social media initiatives later this year. As you make more progress with planning your strategy let me know if you have any questions. Good luck with house training your new puppy, Bailey!”
This kind of personal attention is becoming exceedingly rare in today’s fast-paced culture, which means that people will take note when you make time for them. I’ve made contacts by following this formula that have led to amazing business opportunities and they’ve all told me after the fact how much it meant to them that I took the time to listen and then follow up!
Arrange a Follow-Up Meeting
Obviously it doesn’t make sense to try to meet up again after the event with everyone that you met, but if you identify someone that you think would be good to see again, don’t be afraid to propose a follow-up meeting. Offer to take the person to coffee or lunch to discuss future business, partnership opportunities, mentoring potential, etc. The worst that could happen is that they say no!
Kate Pierce is the owner of LionShark Digital Marketing LLC, a West Michigan internet marketing company. Her areas of expertise include Paid Search, Search Engine Optimization, Social Media, Web Consulting for small businesses, Copywriting and Local Online Marketing. She lives in the Grand Rapids area with her husband and enjoys cooking, watching sports and spending time outdoors. Like a true digital marketing expert (i.e. geek), she loves talking about marketing theory and SEM trends… so don’t say you weren’t warned!