The Meeting Zone

by Country Inns & Suites
Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Whether she’s having dinner at a hotel bar or heading out to a social event, Diane Danielson has business networking on her mind.  By Beth D’Addono
Executive director of the Boston-based national networking organization Downtown Women’s Clubs,  Danielson finds that being vigilant in just about every situation, including the time she spends on the road, can deliver positive networking results. Since many of Danielson’s speaking engagements are generated by referrals, professional networking is critical for her. The key, she finds, is to be prepared and make the most of every business situation.

“Before you go to an event, work-related or not, think about what you want to accomplish,” says Rachel Weingarten, president of the New York–based marketing agency Octagon Strategy Group.  “If you can, find out who’s on the guest list and do some quick Internet research on what they’re about.” It’s also a good idea to smarten up your small talk by being up on the latest in world, pop culture, sports and business events.

Jack Perry, a former sales manager with IBM who is now an executive with John Hancock and a leadership trainer, finds too often that listening is a lost art. “Never be a hard sell,” adds Perry. “That’s the fastest way to clear a room.” He’s also a big believer in dressing to impress, no matter what the occasion. Perry isn’t a fan of dressed-down or casual office attire. “Tailored clothes make all the difference,” he says.

Author Shel Horowitz (Principled Profits: Marketing That Puts People First, 2003, $17.50) finds that when someone gives you a card, it’s best to take time, right then, to jot a note on it that will trigger your memory when you look at it later.

As for what not to do, Weingarten says avoiding excessive alcohol is a good place to start. “And don’t say anything negative about the host or other attendees, or walk away from somebody midsentence when somebody ‘better’ comes into view,” she says.

After the event, follow up by e-mail or phone, and use the initial networking to move the relationship forward by suggesting a day for lunch. If possible, offer something helpful in your follow-up, such as a link to an article related to the other person’s business. “The initial follow-up should be about helping them, not you,” says Danielson.

Finally, apply what she refers to as the airplane test: “Never pursue a relationship with anyone, business or social, you wouldn’t want to sit next to on a cross-country airplane flight. It will feel forced, and that’s not the way to start any kind of a productive relationship.”

Beth D’Addono is a food and travel writer based in Belmont Hills, Pennsylvania. Her latest travel book is a networking success story.