Over the last year we’ve seen an increasing trend towards corporate events including opportunities for break out and networking sessions in their agenda.
But networking isn’t everyone’s idea of fun and when faced with a networking opportunity it can be very normal to be filled with dread. The majority of us try to jump on any chance to try and avoid them.
But don’t be too hasty the next time you’re thinking of an excuse to get out of the networking drinks that have just popped up in your diary. For many successful people, their success can be attributed to their strong networking connections. Networking events are a great place to determine and evaluate your standing in your sector – how you and your business compare to potential competitors and industry leaders. They also provide you with a support network, the opportunity to help others who are just starting out or need advice and they can also be great places to make friends and build lasting relationships. A professional network can support your career development and help you in your current role.
If the thought of speaking to a room full of strangers is keeping you awake in a cold sweat at night, don’t worry, networking is a professional skill, and like most professional skills, it can be learned. There are some simple things you can do to improve your networking skills and to become more confident at working a room.
Network with people you know first
Practice makes perfect. Networking doesn’t have to have a speed dating approach and only involves the pursuit of cold leads. Start by cultivating the ones you already have and invest in those relationships first. It’s a good training ground for other networking opportunities and as they’re warmer leads you may see results quicker, which will increase your confidence.
Relax and enjoy it
We know it’s easy to say, but try and ease into the process. Remember, everyone is there to meet new people and a majority of attendees will be in exactly the same boat as you and feel out of their comfort zone. If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed and apprehensive, sometimes you have to just take a deep breath and dive right in. What’s the worst that can happen?
Be yourself, don’t be tempted to put on a facade and try to be something you’re not. It will only add to the pressure of the situation as you try to sustain it. People will notice straight away if you’re not being completely genuine and may lose confidence and trust in you. You don’t want to be remembered for all the wrong reasons. Honesty isn’t a weakness, it’s extremely powerful – people will appreciate your confidence to share things with them.
So take a deep breath and don’t forget to smile.
Don’t worry about the outcome of a connection
Go into conversations with an open mind. If there’s less pressure on the outcome of your interactions they’ll be more natural and in turn more successful. Keep it casual and be genuinely interested in what people are saying. You don’t want to seem pushy, or that you’re only interested in them for one thing (even if you are).
An authentic connection is much more impactful than one that smacks of desperation.
With anything in business, preparation is key. Being prepared is a great confidence booster – knowing a little bit about the people you’re going to connect with will help you feel more relaxed and ready for anything that comes your way. You might not know who’s attending, but you can prepare some questions to ask. What do you want to know that will be valuable to you and your business? What information is going to be beneficial to you in the long term?
Having a memorable story to bring up in conversation is also a plus.
Listen and pay attention
“A person’s name is to him or her the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” – Dale Carnegie
People love to talk about themselves and you’re more likely to learn something if you’re not doing all the talking. It’s the small stuff that counts. If you can remember someone’s name, what they do, their hobby it will be music to their ears.
Take notes and don’t forget the details.
LinkedIn is your best friend
LinkedIn can feel like hard work and a lot of admin on top of your day to day tasks. For the introvert in us it might not come naturally to dedicate an entire page to our achievements and ‘why we’re amazing’, then invite hundreds of people to have a good look at them.
But connecting on LinkedIn is an excellent way to keep conversations and relationships going after the event. It helps show off your professional information and gives both you and your contact an easy way to stay in touch and build a new network through each other’s connections and introductions.
Quality always trumps quantity
Who you talk to is much more important than how many. Don’t feel the need to work the room like an Olympian sprinter – you won’t get a gold medal for collecting the most cards. You want to ensure that you connect with people who can really benefit you and your career – you need to put the effort in and build up a relationship, not speed through a conversation with someone, looking over their shoulder for your next target.
The same goes for the number of cards you dish out. Think about who you’re giving them to and how you can help each other. Thrusting them into every person’s hand you meet eyes with will be counterproductive, first, you’ll be contacted by people who you don’t want to be who can contribute very little if nothing to your business and secondly you’ll look quite pushy, which may turn people off.
Get a business card. A good one.
It sounds simple, but having a great business card can really help with networking. And if the worst comes to the worst it’s always a great talking point – ‘what weight of card did you say you used?’. Putting time into the design gives a strong impression that you put effort into everything you do. And this can only leave a positive impression on the recipient.
Always keep in touch
This doesn’t mean just sending out a generic email to everyone you met. You need to be making genuine connections.
Tag them with something they may be interested in, or send them an email out of the blue that provides them with real value like an article associated with their expertise or a supplier you think might be able to help them.
Failing to follow up in the right way will be a waste of all your previous efforts.
Don’t think that you don’t need to network
You never know when you’ll need something. It’s easier to ask someone for help when you’ve spoken to them before.
Set some achievable goals and expectations
Decide what you want to achieve from the event. If you know what you want you’re more likely to get it. If you have a clearly defined outcome you’re also more able to establish whether you think the event has been a success for you. If you haven’t achieved what you set out to you can make a clear plan to make improvements at the next event you attend.
Give first. Ask them what they need
Those who give, get. Don’t be afraid to give a little away for free. In a climate where a lot of people are blatantly looking to further their careers, people are looking more and more to making more authentic connections.
And remember – the more you network the more comfortable you will be in the future. See every day as a networking day, try and positively interact with everyone you meet and eventually, it will become second nature to you.