Networking. At the most basic level, it’s simply having a chat and meeting a whole load of new faces. But there’s a little more to networking than that – and it’s something which even the most confident people can find challenging. Get it right, and networking can lead to all sorts of things – a new job, publicity for your business or indispensable new contacts. Here’s how to master the tricky art of networking…
Why are you networking?
There’s absolutely no point in networking just because you think that it’s something that you should do. Making professional connections is beneficial wherever you are in your career, but before you sign up for a networking evening and flex your business cards, take a moment to consider your purpose. Are you looking for a new job? Interested in connected with others in your sector? On the hunt for investment? Trying to generate publicity for your business? Different reasons for networking should inform who you’re looking to meet – and how you go about it.
EVERYONE IS NERVOUS. Even if they might claim they’re not, 99% of people at these events are feeling a little nervous and anxious about meeting a whole load of strangers, and having to talk about themselves. The other 1% probably have some type of personality disorder. Don’t panic, you’re all in the same boat. R-e-e-e-l-a-x.
Networking inevitably involves some type of alcohol, whether that’s complimentary fizz and canapés or just a few beers. But that does NOT mean that this is just like a night out with your friends, in fact it’s quite the opposite. Being the life and soul at a house party is one thing, knocking back the wines with potential professional contacts is quite another. You want people to remember you for the right reasons, so a couple of glasses of Dutch courage to boost your confidence is fine – drunken monologues and propping up the bar absolutely aren’t.
Give & Take
This is not an opportunity to monopolise the conversation – networking is all about finding a balance between helping others and remembering your own purpose for being there. Be generous with your time, and ensure that you’re open, friendly and approachable – and you’ll find that others will reciprocate. Someone you meet might not seem like they’re useful to you – but you never know who their friends and contacts are. Similarly, take time to connect up people that you’ve met at the event who might be of use or interest to each other.
Don’t Judge A Book
Spotted someone cowering in a corner and figure that they look like the least useful person in the room? At an evening full of new faces, it’s all too easy to dismiss people quickly. But once again – that super shy IT technician might just have a little black book full of valuable contacts. Or they might be the exactly the venture capitalist or high-powered recruiter you’ve been hoping to meet. Never, ever discount anyone based on their appearance – make time to listen and find out about them and who knows what they’ll tell you.
All About Me
Networking can be a nerve-wracking process, so be sure to prepare and have a short introductory phrase about yourself ready. Who are you, what do you do, what’s your business all about? Keep it simple and succinct – with keywords that people will remember – think of it as an elevator pitch about yourself. Have a business card ready, a firm handshake – and always remember to make eye contact. Those first impressions count for so much – how do you want your new contacts to remember you?
Networking does not mean standing in one spot all evening, chatting to the same person or group of people. Obviously you don’t have to ping around the room and meet every single attendee, but do try and chat to a few different people during the event. So you’ve had a chat and found out enough about someone to realise that the conversation needs to come to an end. How do you move on and make a few more connections? Be relaxed and casually explain that you’d like to meet a few more people before the event ends. It’s not being rude, it’s understanding how networking works – and they’ll likely be glad you’re making that move, giving them the chance to chat to someone new too.
Remember to take time to follow up once the event has come to an end. Whether that’s connecting on LinkedIn, following a fellow attendee on Twitter or sending them a follow-up email, take time to nurture your new contacts.