At last month’s AFP Annual Conference in Boston, Nicole Meyer, founder & managing partner of The Meyer Partnership, led the popular session, Networking – Developing Your Personal Brand. Utilizing quite a bit of audience participation, Meyer advised attendees of the best ways to market themselves when making new contacts. AFP caught up with Meyer afterward for an exclusive interview.
AFP: When you target someone that you want to meet at an event like the AFP Conference, you might only have 30 seconds to get their attention. What should you say?
Nicole Meyer: You want to engage somebody; you don’t have a lot of time to do it. You want to be enthusiastic, you want to grab somebody’s eye contact, and you want to introduce yourself. But I think telling people who you are and what you do is probably not enough. Be engaging. Find out what the other person does. People love to talk about themselves. People love to feel like you’re interested in them and you’ve got some vested interest in them. So make it about the other person. In networking, that’s so crucial. I think that’s something that people forget to do quite often, and that is make it about somebody other than themselves. It makes for a much better approach, and a much easier way to introduce yourself.
AFP: What are some of the best indicators that someone you’re attempting to network with is losing interest, and what are some tricks you can use to pull them back in?
Meyer: I think body language is a clear indication that you’re losing somebody’s interest. If somebody’s becoming disengaged, their eyes may wander, they may look at their watch; there are some body poses that will tell you they’re not engaged. When that happens to me, I try to pull the individual back in by turning it around and making it about them, asking them questions. Sometimes I use humor. But it really depends on the situation and it depends on what you’re comfortable with. In a situation where someone’s eyes are wandering, you might ask, ‘Am I missing something?’ I promise you, their attention will come back to you. Some people may not like that and may not respond well to that, but I think you have to cut your losses at some point. If someone is incredibly disengaged, I would not take it personally. I would simply acknowledge [them]… and walk away.
AFP: Often at a networking event, the person you need to speak with is already engaged in another conversation. It can be awkward to interrupt them but it can be worse if you just linger around the outside, waiting for the “right” moment to interject something. Which is the better option, or is there another one?
Meyer: If you want to approach people who are talking already at a networking function – or anywhere for that matter – if it’s two people alone and they are deep in discussion, standing close together, you may want to wait and approach them at another time. If you choose to approach them, because they are engaged in a conversation themselves, they may stop talking and stare at you, in which case it’s up to you to engage both of them and get into a conversation. Try to inject humor if that’s appropriate at the time.
Don’t linger. If you want to talk to somebody, go up and talk to somebody. It’s incredibly distracting to people if you are lingering, walking around, making eye contact. People appreciate a far more direct approach. And that is, walk up and introduce yourself. People will let you know if they’re able to talk to you then or not. If they can’t; if you’ve interrupted somebody and it’s obvious that you’ve done that, apologize, offer your card, ask for theirs, and say ‘I would love to meet with you and chat with you at some other time. I’ll give you a call.’ The way technology works today, you can easily text them, email them, and find another opportunity.
AFP: Can you provide some tips for approaching executive level prospects? How can you ensure that they will want to talk to you?
Meyer: You can never be sure that people will want to talk to you, regardless of their level. But if you’ve decided, because you’ve targeted somebody senior, that you want to have a dialogue with them, or you want to introduce yourself to them, or you want them to know who you are, do not be afraid to do that. These are people. They’re perhaps busier than you are at the moment.
A great strategy is: introduce yourself to them or call them before 8:00 in the morning or after 6:00 in the evening. Executives are still in their offices, or they come in early. Typically their assistants and secretaries are not there to answer the phone. They’re not there to block your call. Walk in. But I suggest you do your homework. Do some research on that individual. Find out something about them. Have something relevant to say on the day that you are approaching them. Know what your company’s earnings are, if you’re approaching somebody internally that you work with. If it’s somebody that you don’t work with, you should still do some research on that individual. Find out what you can. Offer some market intelligence that they might be interested in. People will appreciate the effort. They’ll appreciate the initiative. And I don’t think that they’ll say no if you make the effort.
If you do it blindly, without any preparation, and just stand there with nothing to say, you’re not going to achieve your goals. They’ll remember you, but for all the wrong reasons.