When was the last time you went to a networking event? Was it an industry event, perhaps the local social drinks or a continuous education program? And how did you feel – did you hang back while the fellas took charge, strutted like peacocks and thrust business cards into each other’s eagerly awaiting hands?
Networking is a nerve racking but crucial part of professional development. Yet I, like many women, get really nervous. So how can you get the nerve to work a room?
How you can network like a pro
You’ve walked in, and you (a) know no one; or (b) decide to huddle with your friends in the corner for the whole event. NO. You are here to meet new people and make connections. Reframe it in your mind – this networking event is a chance to meet and mingle, and exchange business cards. Meet those like-minded people attending, and who by virtue of their presence must be interested in getting to know others. Here are three simple steps you can do:
1. Find a target
Look for another person on their own or a pair, and play it like a hostess with the most-est. Start with a: ‘Hey, I just got here, do you know many people, no, let me introduce myself….’. Once you’ve made the intro, follow it up by asking them a leading questions, for example ‘So have you heard about…” is a great opener. You can bring up anything from current events to nuggets of industry information about local developments or sites or new technology. No do you like footy filler. You are educated, informed and have something relevant to contribute to your trade or industry. Brush up with some quick research before you arrive and you’ll have something relevant to share with everyone you talk to. Bingo, you’ve just made that person feel a million bucks (as they were probably shivering in their boots wondering if anyone would find them interesting enough to talk to) and hey, you probably also gave them some relevant industry info.
2. Making it worthwhile
Networking isn’t about what others can do for you NOW, it’s about making meaningful connections that have the potential to assist you in the future. Face it, you wouldn’t want to help one someone if there was no connection. If they are a bore, give them the courtesy of a polite exit, “I need to refresh my drink, perhaps we will run into each other again later. It was lovely to meet you.” Then move on. There’s nothing wrong with moving on to speak with others. That’s the purpose of a networking event — to network. When you are ready to move on, a polite, ‘It’s been great talking to you, but I really need to say hello to a few other people. Hope you enjoy the rest of the event’ or ‘It’s been lovely chatting with you. Please excuse me.’
If it’s gone well, how do you maximise the encounter and do the card exchange. The business card does not replace you, it gives a point of contact after a personal connection has been made. Make sure you have your cards with you before you arrive! There is nothing worse (and I do it all the time) than the rummage for cards in a handbag. Have them in your phone cover, or a pocket in your bag that’s easy to access. Discreet but natural. A simple, ‘I’ve really enjoyed this conversation, we should continue our discussion over coffee, here, let me give you a my card”… and BOOM…cards exchanged. Later you should make notes on the back of their business card so you can remember something about them when you follow up.
3. To coffee or not to coffee
You came, saw and conquered, and left with a couple of cards and some useful industry insights. What will you do about it? First, have a serious think about it, what was the purpose of attending the event? Is there anyone you want to meet up with again? Is there some benefit you can offer to your new connection, or some benefit you’ll make from the connection. If you promised to email, a simple, ‘ Hi, it was lovely to meet you, look forward to seeing you at the next event will do’. But to propel it further, add on a ‘It was really interesting to discuss X with you, if you’re free for coffee in a few weeks, let’s chat about it further.’ Remember, networking is about building relationships. Relationships are built on trust. Building trust is generally not built in a single meeting. The trust part will develop when you are authentic in your relationships.
Coffee meetings are important when building a great network. But even if you meet at a cafe, coffee is not essential. What is important is that the beverage you select should take the same amount of time to consume as a cup of coffee. Meetings over coffee are for getting things done.
So there you go, networking with confidence. You’ve taken the first step to creating meaningful connections for your future! Networking is simply building business relationships, and remember the key word is ‘business’. After all, you’re focusing on your career, not your social life!
And Steel Heels says:
I admit it, I used to hate networking. I used to take breaks in the toilets just to save myself from the awkward silences and stilted conversations. Networking can be hard work and energy draining for anyone who is not a complete extrovert. Thing is, I once told a friend that I hated networking and she looked perplexed and said, ‘you? Miss Gabby! Between us we rarely have a millisecond of silence!’. I responded, ‘but you are my friend! I always have something to tell you…’ Funny thing is that the more I network the more industry friends I accumulate and the easier it becomes. It’s no longer hard work when you have a relationship on top of the industry you have in common. And that friendship can introduce you to their connections and so on.
As our networked blogger suggests, you have to start somewhere so aim to make a few connections each time. As you continue to attend events you’ll see more familiar faces and before you know it, you’ll be looking forward to the party – just don’t get too carried away and become the life of the party!