For some financial advisors networking is an enjoyable part of the job; for others it may be their least favorite. But all advisors will agree that it is a necessary aspect of the job. Networking is important, not only in building up your client base, but also in cementing your reputation. It’s also a good way to practice your communication and sales skills. Some advisors find that it’s easy to strike up a conversation with a new acquaintance. They enjoy the banter and know how to talk about their business in an easy and casual way. But for those who don’t have topnotch social skills or feel uneasy selling themselves, there are a few tips you can follow to make the process easier or at least a little less painful.

As with everything, both practice and preparation are key. And if you are not constantly networking you are doing your business a disservice. So, the next time you find yourself at a networking meeting or in a large group, give these suggestions a try. (For more, see: How to Be a Top Financial Advisor.)

The Speech

Come up with a short speech or pitch about yourself and your business that you can use in any situation in which you are meeting new people. You should practice what you want to get across in the speech at home, with friends or with family members, so that you are comfortable with it when the time comes to network. You want your opener speech to sound casual and unrehearsed, even if it’s not. (For more, see: Networking for Financial Professionals: Maintaining a Strong Industry Presence.)

In your meet and greet pitch you should include a basic description of what you do and the services your business offers. Then give the listener some information about the clients you serve and how you have helped them to better manage their money, plan for retirement or run their estate. Be sure to hand the potential client your business card at some point during the discussion, so that they know how to reach you, if they do decide to learn more about you and your services.

Remember a key part of a successful conversation starter is sounding fresh and authentic. You don’t want your opener to sound like a rehearsed speech or it will be a turn off. You want to give information that will make you stand out from the crowd, while also making the person talking with you feel comfortable. You may even want to have a few speeches prepared that you can juggle depending on the type of person you are talking with. (For more, see: Growth Strategies for Financial Advisors.)

Be Prepared for Questions

If the person you are networking with starts peppering you with questions, that’s actually a good thing. It shows you’ve captured their attention and they are interested in hearing what you have to say. Just make sure you are prepared with some solid answers to their questions. And try not to let your answers sound rote. You don’t want to bore your listener or bombard them with the same speech that they may have heard already from another advisor. Come up with new approaches and work on making your answers sound fresh. Prospective clients or networkers from other fields will most likely have questions about your background, how long you’ve been in the business and what types of clients you mostly serve. Remember, this discussion will cement this person’s first impression of you, so you want to make it a good one. (For more, see: Why Advisors Should Sidle Up to Estate Attorneys.)

The Personal Touch

People you are networking with may want to get to know you on a more personal level as well, which often helps to inform them about what kind of businessperson you may be. So, if you have time to speak with potential clients over a coffee or lunch during a networking event or symposium, you should try to engage in some everyday small talk.  Ask the person you are speaking with where they are from and where they grew up. Find out how they ended up at the event and what type of business they are in. You may also want to ask them what some of their hobbies are, and what may be their hopes and goals for the future. (For more, see: Top 10 Lead-Generation Tips for Financial Advisors.)

You want to make sure that your questions and answers are not just formulaic. You need to really be interested in the person and what they have to say, or you will come off as a phony. A conversation includes a sharing of ideas and shouldn’t just feel like a networking opportunity for a sale or business deal. Again, before you leave the discussion, make sure the person knows how to reach you. It can’t hurt to also ask if you may contact them to speak further. If you don’t follow up soon thereafter, a good networking session may lay fallow.

The Bottom Line

Networking events can be uncomfortable for everyone involved, but there are several ways to use these opportunities to your advantage. Be prepared to talk about yourself and your business. And don’t forget to ask questions so the conversation remains a dialogue, not a monologue. (For more, see: Strategies for Winning Advisory Business in 2015.)