Some of us love it, many of us hate it. Most of us have to do it at some point in our lives. Whether it’s social or business related, networking can be daunting for even the most outgoing of characters and the majority of us would happily stick pins in our eyes over voluntarily attending a networking event, particularly if going it alone.
It is however often a necessary pain to endure whether it’s for the purpose of expanding your client base, developing business partnerships, to find a better job or source potential new recruits. The more people you meet, the larger your network, the greater your chance of finding the best customers, partners, employers or employees.
Even naturally outgoing characters can find it difficult to enter and approach a room full of strangers but remember; people go to these events to meet strangers with the purpose of forming new relationships, so you’re in the same position as everyone else. Equally as important as how you conduct yourself at the event itself is your preparation in the run-up to the event and with this in mind, below are my 10 essential tips on how to successfully survive a networking event:
1. Prepare and do your research!
Read up on the speaker and any related topics. Think about who you want to connect with; check out their LinkedIn profiles and the news page of target company websites so you have intelligent conversation starters and are demonstrating a genuine interest in who they are, and what they do – this immediately gains credibility. Have a goal, come up with two outcomes you hope to take from the event – for example, meeting three new people or getting one new job/business lead. Don’t give up until you’ve succeeded regardless of how tough you may find it; persevere and it’ll be a whole lot easier next time.
2. Ensure your LinkedIn profile is up-to-date and your Facebook and other social networking sites are set to private.
A poor decision made on social media can hugely impact your professional prospects so make sure there’s nothing incriminating online prior to the event. Dress appropriately; if you have to question whether or not your outfit is suitable for a work function, it isn’t. And always, always, remember to take your business cards.
3. If the thought of approaching a room full of strangers fills you with the dread one simple trick is to show up early when people are just starting to trickle in.
You’ll form small conversation groups prior to the masses arriving and this will allow the opportunity for more fruitful conversations as well as making a more memorable first impression before everyone starts drowning in business cards and handshakes.
4. Be confident.
The most confident person in the room naturally holds the most influence. When involved in a group conversation try to make input early on as it typically becomes more difficult to contribute to a conversation the more time that passes. Confidence again comes partly down to planning and having a clear idea of what you want to achieve from the event. Own the fact that you’re there; plaster on a (sincere) smile and go with the mindset of making some new friends!
5. When you arrive at a networking event avoid gravitating to people you know.
Instead, introduce yourself to the organiser as a starting point, this will be a great way to warm up and also people naturally gravitate to the organiser so this is a good way to strike up conversations. Remembering that others may feel more intimidated than you is also key; help someone out by initiating conversation should they be standing by themselves.
6. It’s imperative to remember people’s names.
As simple as this sounds it’s all too easy to get distracted and forget. An easy trick is when being introduced to, repeat their name back and also try to use their name 2-3 times during the conversation. Always remember to keep one hand free to allow yourself to shake hands with people. This means that you shouldn’t eat and drink at the same time. Remember, this is a networking event, not an excuse to feast.
7. If you’re shy or introverted then focus on others.
Listen more, speak less. Ask questions and people will happily talk. If you are a naturally outgoing character who is comfortable in these situations then ensure you’re not overbearing; encourage others to talk more and resist the temptation to launch into a pitch as this will generally cause people to disengage. Remember, you don’t actually have to talk business at all depending on the tone of the event, often the most fruitful business relationships are formed from more of an informal starting point. With this in mind if you feel comfortable, ask about their families or personal lives. Once you have formed a more personal relationship with a networking contact, it will be much easier for you to talk about yourself and your business ideas. They will be interested in you because you were interested in them.
8. Regarding who you are and what you do, be specific and succinct.
Always have your “elevator pitch” or personal value proposition (PVP) practised, without of course sounding like an over-rehearsed robot. Consider why the person you’re speaking to should care about what you’re saying and craft your conversations accordingly. You only have a short time to make an impression, so try to make it favourable. Never “work the room” and don’t put unrealistic expectations on yourself in terms of the number of people you’re hoping to connect with. Focus on making just a few solid connections and on opening meaningful dialogue rather than short, superficial interactions that won’t be memorable for anyone.
9. Some final things to remember; firstly don’t drink too much.
You want to be remembered as the interesting professional with intelligent questions and credibility, not the numpty who had one too many sav blancs and made a fool of him/herself. Secondly always remember to follow up with those you’re keen to establish business relationships with. A brief courtesy email will suffice however something more personal often helps to forge to strongest partnerships. Forward an article relating to something they mentioned they had an interest in, a link to a restaurant they may like to try or a movie recommendation if you know they’re a film buff. How many other people do you think would make such a small gesture that will have such a great impact?
10. Still find networking tough?
Then practice, it’s as simple as that; think of networking like any other professional skill that needs constant training and development. While others may on the surface appear to be born networkers, they are likely just more experienced and the only way to improve is to just get out there and do it!