In the days before computers reduced social networking to 280 character, color-filtered, SEO-driven positioning statements, the wheels of business were greased by actual human interaction. How successful you were at acquiring and keeping clients was directly related to how well you could carry on a conversation in a social environment.
In the modern electronic age, live networking has become less prominent, but that doesn’t mean that it's lost its importance. Knowing how to interact with someone face to face is still a valuable skill to have.
With that thought in mind, here are 10 tips to keep in mind when you find yourself at a business social get-together.
Dont Pig Out - There is usually food at these things, but this is not the time to treat it like an all-you-can-eat buffet. In the monthly get-together that I go to, it’s held in the morning, so there is always an assortment of donuts, breakfast tacos and other wonderful things.
Pro tip: go with the food item that is the least messy. If you go to an evening function, there might be alcohol. If so, having one drink to loosen you up is one thing, but this is not the time to "tie-one-on" and re-create some kind of homage to "Animal House."
Keep your hand-shaking hand empty and clean - This means that you are going to have to be balancing a plate of food and possibly a drink in your other hand. Not loading up the plate with a ton of food will help maintain balance and prevent a catastrophe should someone accidentally bump into you.
Fill your cup half-way. For me personally, I have a cup of coffee to help pick up my energy level, then switch to a water as more people start showing up. This way if you do bump into someone, it's only water and not something that will stain clothes or cause burns. I've found that your chances of securing voiceover work from someone you just spilled scalding coffee on decreases exponentially.
Two words: Breath mints - you’ve just eaten a taco, or donut, or had a cup of coffee. Popping a breath mint when you're in close proximity to someone is a pro move. I met someone at a meeting a while ago that had breath that almost knocked me over. It’s tough to keep your composure when it feels like your eyebrows are being singed from the toxic blast wave, but try. Right now, all I can remember about that individual was that their breath stunk. Is that someone you would want to do business with in the future? Of course not. If the meeting is casual enough that you’re wearing jeans, keep a wrapped lifesaver mint in that coin pocket thing. It makes for quick deployment. Just make sure you aren't conversing with someone while a mint is bouncing around in your mouth.
The Three Foot Rule - this has been a staple of business networking for ages. The rule is simple: if you're within three feet of someone, strike up a conversation. Practice your small talk. Discuss the weather, the meeting, the food, etc. Complimenting someone is usually a good way to break the ice. Avoid politics.
Have a ton of business cards ready to hand out. As I said in a previous post, the game is to hand out all your business cards, but the secret goal is to never run out of business cards. Always pack more than you think you’re going to need.
Pro Tip: Go the extra step and position your cards in your pocket so that when you reach in to hand someone the card, it’s automatically facing forward and the right way up without you having to fumble and break eye contact with the person.
Which leads me to...
Eye contact - It’s funny when you’re wearing one of those “hello, my name is...” stickers on your shirt, because everyone immediately looks at that first, but once you’ve done that, try to memorize the person’s name so that you don't have to keep referring to it. Keep eye contact with the individual. This will help to establish trust. A good firm handshake without being too firm is also a plus.
Have your elevator speech prepared - an elevator speech is a short answer that you can fire off to someone when they ask you what you do. You don't want to have it sound like you’re reading a script (good thing we’re all well versed in the conversational style of speech, right?) Make it casual, concise and interesting. The monthly group meeting I attend has a point where everyone has 20 seconds to say who they are and what they do. Be prepared for this. There is nothing worse for a voiceover artist - a person who gets paid to speak for a living - to ham-fistedly stumble their way through a description of who they are. You might as well be holding a giant neon sign that says “Hi! I’m a total amateur that doesn't know what he’s doing!”
Be a good listener - just because you have someone to talk to doesn’t mean you get to monopolize the conversation. Find out about THEM. What do they do? As they're describing their business, begin thinking about how you could possibly help them with your business. Find out as many details about them as you can, and then make notes for afterwards.
Which leads me to...
The follow up - if you meet someone interesting, take notes. Carry a pen and write down information about who they are and where you met on the back of their business card. Then when you get back to your computer, send them a friendly email along the lines of “it was great meeting you today at (whatever)...” Get a business card file and use it. Every few weeks, flip through the file and look at some of the cards. Is there someone that you could benefit from talking to again? Good thing you have some notes on when you met, right?
What all of this comes down to is that you should get involved with a local business group. Contact your local Chamber of Commerce or go to meetup.com to find them. This is a great way to meet other business owners in your area and establish a presence in the community as “the guy who does voiceovers.” You never know when someone may want to do a radio commercial or need a voiceover for a walkthrough video of a house. And if they’ve met you in person, they are more likely to use you over some stranger they find at a website.
Step away from behind the computer for a few hours; get out there and be social!
About Rob Marley - A Los Angeles native, Rob is an accomplished voice talent, producer and writer, now living in the Hill Country of Austin Texas.
Image: Townsville Chamber Networking Function / Young Chamber used with permission