Networking is an artform, and for those of you who are introverts or feel socially awkward then Networking can be very stressful. But networking is also essential for making contacts and creating opportunities in the business world, so here are my tips to ensure you are a success:
- Find out who will be at the event, research the people you want to connect with on LinkedIn or Google. Come up with a few questions as “Ice Breakers”.
- Have an engaging spiel prepared about yourself that is relevant to your audience.
- Have a topic prepared to start a conversation. Try to avoid negative sentiments like complaining about your commute. Perhaps a humours story, a recent interest, or documentary you have watched. Even a travel story – everyone has a good travel story and like to discuss places they have been.
As simple as it sounds, ensure you have plenty of cards easily accessible. You don’t want to be fumbling around in your bag or pocket and produce a dog-eared crumpled card. After all, your card is a representation of you. It’s also a good idea to carry a card wallet/holder to place all the cards you receive. After the event make a note on the card as a memory prompt of your discussions.
Set Goals for the event
It could be to meet 8 new people or to meet 2 specific people – quality not quantity. Try to avoid any sales pitchesstraight up. You should focus initially on building rapport. It is important to allocate your time when at a networking event.
Networking is about developing relationships, being genuine, building trust and seeing how you can help others. Be friendly, open and positive when talking with other professionals.
The good news for introverts is that building relationships is about showing sincere interest in the other party and being an excellent listener and not continually flipping a conversation back to yourself. You could ask how they got into their line of work and what they like or dislike about it or the industry in general.
An important point to remember - It is not a contest! Give credit and acknowledgement to people’s accomplishments and stories, don’t try to better them with your own.
During a Networking event you will cross paths with many individuals, so it’s important to be memorable. You could have a funny story or comment up your sleeve. I once heard someone when asked “what they do?” reply: “I spend most of my life trying to convince people to cook me dinner” – this always stuck in my mind as it was light hearted and induced laughter from the entire group.
Another way to be memorable is by adding value without expecting anything in return. This could be by simply putting an attendee in touch with someone else who may be of interest to them. Or if you have done your homework, provide them with a bit of trivia about a hobby or interest they may have or an industry statistic of relevance.
Don’t be afraid to join in a conversation. Just wait for a natural break in the conversation and introduce yourself. At a Networking function, most people will welcome the chance to meet someone new. Don’t interrupt. If you feel you have entered into a serious conversation then it’s okay to politely excuse yourself.
Try asking people you are speaking to if they know of anyone that might have an interest in your profession or who they can recommend you speak to about xyz topic.
Introduce yourself to the organiser
They can point you in the right direction. An introduction by an organiser often holds more weight than introducing yourself, it can also help break the ice and relieve the pressure of approaching on your own. Similarly, any introduction from another attendee can work in the same fashion.
End conversations tactfully. Leave them with a positive feeling (ensure they don’t feel like you are leaving them for someone better). Tell them it was nice speaking with them and if you feel it appropriate ask for their business card.
Make contact within 48 hrs. A great way to stand out from the crowd is a simple email giving them something that is useful to them. Perhaps attach an article on a topic you spoke about or a link to an up and coming seminar.
There will always be times when you aren’t going to come across as funny or as impressive as you would like and times when you felt in over your head during particular conversations. Like anything else, practice makes perfectand knowledge is power. The key is to research, practice and adjust accordingly. The more you network, the easier it becomes.