Sunday, September 20, 2009

Networking Mixers: Break the Ice, Build Your Contacts, and Grow Your Business

Great article with lots great tips and suggestions by one of the great guru's of Networking

By Dr. Ivan Misner

iLearningGlobal Faculty Member

Founder & Chairman of BNI, World’s largest business networking organization

Sr. Partner of the Referral Institute

New York Times Bestselling Author

Called the “Father of Modern Networking” by CNN

Do you suffer from “Butterfly‐itis”at the very mention of networking at business functions? If you answered yes, you

are not alone! Many business people and entrepreneurs get a bit uncomfortable when it comes right down to walking

up to someone and starting a conversation. Many others are concerned about getting effective results from the time

they spend networking. The process doesn’ have to be traumatic, scary, or a waste of time. When done properly, it

can truly make a difference in the amount of business your company generates. With the right approach, you can use it

to build a wealth of resources and contacts that will help to make your business very successful.

Making contacts that turn into relationships is the foundation of a prosperous word‐of‐mouth business. Neophyte

networkers repeatedly ask me, “hat can I do to meet more people and make better contacts at business mixers?”To

answer this important question,

I’e put together what I call the “en Commandments of Networking”to help master those mixers. These rules work just

as well for events like a Chamber of Commerce mixer as they do for a company open‐house party.

The Ten Commandments of Networking a Mixer

1. Have your networking tools with you at all times.

2. Set a goal for the number of people you’ll meet.

3. Act like a host, not a guest.

4. Listen, and ask the five “W” questions: who, what, where, when, and why.

5. Give a lead or referral whenever possible.

6. Describe your product or service in sixty seconds.

7. Exchange business cards with the people you meet.

8. Spend ten minutes or less with each person you meet.

9. Write comments on the backs of the business cards you collect.

10. Follow up with the people you meet.

Now, all of these commandments are predicated on the idea that you actually
meet and talk to people at the event. So

before we even get to them, it’s important to talk about how to do just that.

Many times when entrepreneurs attend the ever‐popular networking mixer, they have a difficult time reading the crowd

and knowing when and where to get started. Sometimes, that seems to be the biggest challenge for entrepreneurs in

networking. They may say to themselves; “ don’ want to just barge in. Where do I start? Who do I talk to?”Being able to assess the room is an important beginning for the process. For example, look at Diagram A, below. Here is

a top‐down view of a portion of the room during a business mixer. For the person entering the room (like the individual

with the “”in the bottom right corner –it’ hard to determine where to start in the networking process.

With that in mind, consider this. The next time you are attending a networking mixer, take note of how people stand

physically grouped together. You will find that people stand with their bodies clearly indicating whether or not they are

open to having someone approach and join them or not. In other words, literally look for “pen”vs. “losed”groups.

What do I mean by open vs. closed groups? Compare the two diagrams below. You will note that in Diagram B the two

people are standing parallel to one another with their shoulders squared off in a way that does not make it easy for

anyone to enter the conversation. It is a Closed Two group. However, in Diagram C. you will note that the two parties

are standing slightly askew which makes it easier for someone to join the conversation. This is an example of an Open


B. C.

In Diagram D below, you will see an example of a Closed Three group. In this illustration, you can see that they have

closed the circle, thus indicating that they are having a more private conversation or are not interested in meeting

someone else at that moment. This would NOT be the group to break into and introduce yourself.

Sometimes the closed three’ do open for a time and then re‐close. As you watch the group, take the opportunity to

come in the group during the times when they are physically open. This usually indicates the ebb and flow of

conversation and lets you know that there is a break in the intensity of conversation or at least in the privacy of the


On the other hand, look at Diagram E. In this illustration, you can clearly see that there is room for another person to

join in the group. These are the configurations to look for in a group of people where the majority of them are business

people you don’ know.

The Open Three’ will stand with a slight break between two of them.


The same principles apply with groups of four or more. When all participants are facing “n to”each other, leaving no

opening for another, consider that a closed group. However, many groups of four or more will have a position open,

with room for another one (or more) to join. That would be an open group.

Being able to read a crowd, any size crowd, and gauge when to come into a group of two, three, or more people who are

networking is an acquired skill. If you aren’ able to learn this concept, you might be destined to attend event after

event and finally make the presumption that networking events aren’ a good way for you to make connections or

develop new networking partners.

This couldn’ be further from the truth. You must put yourself out there into the mix for it to work. As I like to say,

“etworking is a contact sport.”In order to make those connections, you need to successfully gauge the warmth of the

smaller gatherings of people at the mixer.

Below is Diagram A again. Take another look at it. Can you spot the open and closed groups? It’ amazing how the

same diagram makes sense when you look at it from the perspective of open or closed groups.


Often people who attend the mixer together will stay grouped together for the entire event. As the event unfolds,

however, they will open and close their grouping. I have seen this happening and watched as networkers who were

savvy to this concept came into the grouping as it opened, met the attendees and then moved around the room meeting

others, collecting business cards of future contacts for their successful networking efforts.

Now that you understand the analogy of Open and Closed Three’, let’ move on to my
Ten Commandments of

Networking a Mixer
. After you master these, you will truly be ready to have an enjoyable and profitable meeting!

Commandment # 1: Have Your Networking Tools With You at All Times

The first commandment is to have with you at all times the tools you need to network. This is the foundation of all that

follows. All successful business people (or what I call “Notable Networkers”) have the “tools of the trade.” These tools

include an informative name badge, plenty of business cards, brochures about their business, and a pocket‐sized

business‐card file that has the business cards of the professionals they refer.

As an effective networker, you need to purchase a commercially‐made badge. This looks much more professional than

the stick‐on, “ello My Name Is”paper badges. Your badge needs to include both your name and your company’ name

or your profession on it. As a rule of thumb, use your company’ name if it describes your profession.

For example:

John Anderson


If your company’ name does not clearly describe your profession (as is the case with a consulting firm like Carlton,

Donner, & Finch), write your profession on the badge:

Mary S. Carlton



Badges are now available that require only slipping your business card into the top and—
voilĂ !— instant badge! These

badges are unique because you are literally wearing your business card, logo and all.

Make sure the print on your card is readable to people standing a few feet away. Many people recommend wearing

your badge on the right side, because people shake right‐handed and the badge is easier to see. While this seems to

makes sense, if you’e that close to someone, it doesn’ matter much. Always look for a profession on the badge.

Knowing someone’ profession or company name makes it easier to start a dialogue, because you can ask about his or

her business. Always carry plenty of business cards with you. I like to stash some in my wallet, briefcase, calendar, and

car so that I’ never without them. I also keep a small metal cardholder in the coat pocket of each of my suits.

Commandment # 2: Set a Goal for the Number of People You’ll Meet

Some people go to a meeting with only one goal in mind: the time they plan to leave! To get the most out of a

networking event, set a goal regarding the number of contacts you want to make or the number of business cards you

want to collect. Don’t leave until you’ve met your goal.

If you feel inspired, set a goal to meet fifteen to twenty people and make sure you get all their cards. If you don’t feel so

hot, shoot for less. In either case, set a reachable goal based on the attendance and type of group.

Commandment # 3: Act Like a Host, Not a Guest

In her book
Skills for Success, Dr. Adele Scheele tells about a cocktail party where she met someone who was hesitant to

introduce himself to total strangers. Dr. Scheele suggested that he “consider a different scenario for the evening. That is,

consider himself the party’s host instead of its guest.” She asked him, if he were the host, wouldn’t he introduce himself

to people he didn’t know and then introduce them to each other?

Wouldn’t he make sure people knew where the food and drinks were? Wouldn’t he watch for lulls in conversations, or

bring new people over to an already‐formed small group?

Scheele’ new acquaintance acknowledged the obvious difference between the active role of the host and the passive

role of the guest. A host is expected to do things for others, while a guest sits back and relaxes. Scheele concluded,

“here was nothing to stop this man from playing the role of host even though he wasn’ the actual host.”There is

nothing to stop you from being far more active when you’e with a large group of people, either.

A distinguishing characteristic of self‐made millionaires, according to Thomas Stanley, professor of marketing at Georgia

State University, is that they network everywhere. Most important, they do it all the time —at business conferences, at

the health club, on the golf course, or with the person sitting next to them on a plane. This fact alone should motivate

you to place yourself in situations where you can meet new people. Sit between strangers at business meetings or strike

up a conversation with people at the spa. Make friends, even when you don’ need to.

Commandment # 4: Listen, and Ask the Five “W” Questions; Who, What, Where, When, and Why

Dale Carnegie advised, show genuine interest in the other person’s business. If I meet a printer, I ask, “What kind of

printing do you specialize in? Commercial? Four‐color?

Instant? Copying? Where are you located? How long have you been in business?”The answer to each of these questions gives me a better grasp of the individual and the type of work she does. Thus, I’

in a better position to refer her to others or invite her to different networking groups.

Commandment # 5: Give a Referral Whenever Possible

Notable Networkers believe in the “givers gain” philosophy. If you don’t genuinely attempt to help the people you meet,

then you are not networking. You need to be creative in this area.

Few of the people you meet for the first time at a business mixer are going to express a need for your product or service.

That doesn’t mean you can’t give them something.

If you can’t give people bona fide referrals, offer them some information that would be of interest to them. Tell them

about a speaker’s bureau in their area that could help them get speaking engagements, tell them about another

business mixer that’s coming up soon, or give them information about one of the networking organizations you belong

to. Don’t be a “narcoleptic networker.” Stay awake, and take an active role in the networking groups you belong to.

If you work hard at developing your skills, people will remember you in a positive way. In addition, you will ultimately

expand your Contact Sphere, because, as we discussed earlier, many people who start out as Casual Contacts become

Strong Contacts.

The larger your network, the better your chances of reaching out and calling upon resources you wouldn’t have access

to otherwise. Most important, with this growth comes increased visibility, exposure, opportunity, and success.

Commandment # 6: Describe Your Product or Service

After you’ve learned what other people do, make sure to tell them what you do. Be specific but brief; use “memory

hooks” or basic explanations that they will retain after your brief encounter.

Too often, people try to cover everything they do in one introduction. When you have the chance to be in front of the

same group of folks regularly, don’t make the mistake most people make by painting with too broad a brush. Lasersharp

networking calls for you to be very specific and detailed about one thing at a time.

Sometimes I hear businesspeople say they have a “full service” business. I think saying this alone is a mistake; full service

doesn’t really mean anything to people who don’t understand the details of all the services you offer. Instead, talk about

what you specialize in or what you're best known for. There's something that sets you apart from the competition…let

others know about that aspect of your business.

Whatever you do, however, don’t assume people you meet for the first time will really know your business. Here is

where you need to gauge the conversation, and explain your business in a little further detail to them if they seem


Commandment # 7: Exchange Business Cards With The People You Meet

Ask the person you’ve just met for two of his cards, one to pass on to someone else and one to keep for yourself. This

sets the stage for networking to happen. Keep your cards in one pocket and put other people’s cards in the other

pocket. This way, you won’t be fumbling around trying to find your cards while accidentally giving somebody else’s card


What do you do with business cards you collect from people you meet at networking events such as business forums,

breakfasts, and mixers? These cards can be instrumental in helping you remember people, initiate follow‐ups, discover

opportunities, and access information and resources.

Always review the cards for pertinent information. It is not always easy to determine what people do simply from their

title or company name. Note whether the products and services offered by the company are listed or summarized. If

you’e just received the card of an attorney, check to see whether the card indicates the attorney’ specialty. To

demonstrate your interest, write the missing information you collect on the front of the card, in view of the other


Commandment # 8: Spend Ten Minutes or Less With Each Person You Meet and Don’t Linger With Friends and


Recalling Commandment # 2, if your goal is to meet a given number of people, then you can’t spend too much time with

any one person, no matter how interesting the conversation gets. Stay focused on making as many contacts as you can.

When you meet people who are very interesting and with whom you want to spend more time, set up appointments

with them. You can always meet later to continue the conversation.

Don’t try to close business deals while you’re networking; it’s impractical. Set a date to meet and discuss your product or

service in an environment more conducive to doing business. You may be able to increase your business with hot

prospects if you take the time to fully understand their needs.

Learn to leave conversations gracefully. Honesty is usually the best policy; tell them you need to connect with a few

more people, sample the hors d’oeuvres, or get another drink. If you feel uncomfortable with that, exit like a host by

introducing new acquaintances to someone you know. Better yet, if it seems appropriate, ask them to introduce you to

people they know.

Above all, don’t linger with friends and associates! These are people you already know, and you’re there to meet people

you don’t know. I attended a mixer once where I saw several business friends stand and talk with one another for two

hours. On their way out, one actually complained, “This was a waste of time. I didn’t get any business from it, did you?”

No kidding.

Commandment # 9: Write comments on the Backs of the Business Cards You Collect

This helps you remember more about the person when you follow up the next day. I try to meet many people when I’m

at a mixer. Two hours and twenty people later, I can’t always keep everyone straight. Therefore, I always carry a pen,

and when I’ve concluded a conversation with a new acquaintance, I step away and jot down notes, including the date

and location of the event. This information is crucial for effective follow‐up and becomes more important the busier you

are. I also write a note about what the person is seeking; for example:

“…s looking for a good printer,”“…as friend moving out of the area and needs a real estate agent,”or (the most important one of all),

“…ants to set an appointment with me; call on Tuesday!”If the individual doesn’ express a specific need, I may write down something about him or her that I learned from the

conversation —things relating to his or her responsibilities, contacts, interests, or hobbies.

For example:

“…ikes to back‐pack,”“…nows Joe Smith from L.A.,”or

“…upervises ten employees.”Record anything you think may be useful in remembering the person more clearly. As you’l see in Commandment # 10,

the more information you have about the people you meet, the better your chances of a successful follow‐up. One

important note however, some cultures (particularly Asian countries) find it bad form to write on their cards. Be aware

of your cultural surroundings before following this suggestion.

Commandment # 10: Follow up With The People You Meet

I’ve seen people spend untold hours in networking organizations, yet fail at networking because their follow‐up was

appalling. Remember, good follow‐up is the lifeblood of networking. You can obey the previous nine commandments

religiously, but if you don’ follow up effectively, you’e wasting your time! If you promise to get back to people, make

sure you do. Even if you don’ promise, call them or drop them a letter. If you follow up effectively, networking can be


I highly suggest that you copy the list of commandments at the start of this article and keep it with you in your calendar,

briefcase, or purse. The next time you go to a business mixer, review the list before you go inside.

These commandments are part of the core of creating a positive message and delivering it effectively. Establishing a

word‐of‐mouth based business requires getting out of your cave and getting belly to belly with other business


The next time you have the opportunity to go to a gathering of this sort, use what you’e learned here to break the ice

and build your business!

Special thanks to Martin & Gillian Lawson for their contributions to this article.

About Ivan Misner
: Dr. Ivan Misner is the Founder & Chairman of BNI, the world’s largest business networking

organization. BNI was founded in 1985. The organization now has over 5,000 chapters throughout every populated

continent of the world. Last year alone, BNI generated 5.5 million referrals resulting in $2.2 billion dollars worth of

business for its members. Dr. Misner’s Ph.D. is from the University of Southern California. He has written ten books,

including his New York Times Best sellers: Masters of Sales, Truth or Delusion? and Masters of Networking. He is a

monthly columnist for and is the Senior Partner for the Referral Institute – a referral training

company with trainers around the world. In addition, he has taught business management and social capital courses at

several universities throughout the United States and now sits on the Board of Trustees for the University of the Rockies.

Called the “Father of Modern Networking” by CNN and the “Networking Guru” by Entrepreneur magazine, Dr. Misner is

considered to be one of the world’s leading experts on business networking and has been a keynote speaker for major

corporations and associations throughout the world. He has been featured in the L.A. Times, Wall Street Journal, and

New York. Times, as well as numerous TV and radio shows including CNN, CNBC, and the BBC in London. Dr. Misner is

the Founder of the BNI‐Misner Charitable Foundation and was recently named “umanitarian of the Year”by a

Southern California newspaper. He is married and lives with his wife Elisabeth and their three children in Claremont, CA.

In his spare time!!! He is also an amateur magician and a black belt in karate.
For more information visit

No comments:

Post a Comment