Let’s kick this off by assuming we can all agree by now that, if you’re in business, networking is a good idea. The reasons are obvious.
That out of the way, let’s say something else that’s obvious, but we rarely remember. Very few people, when presented with the opportunity to speak to a whole room of strangers, rub their hands and do a jig of excitement. Shakey hands, increased heart rate and embarrassing sweating are more likely to be the immediate responses. Hyperventilating and nausea may be close seconds.
Even those with tonnes of experience, and who exude confidence from over pore are likely to be prone to a certain amount of networking nerves. It’s entirely natural, very common and nothing you can’t overcome with the right strategy. So, with our personal experiences of networking we decided to pull together our top tips for getting in there, and out of there, alive.
#1 – Work out why you’re doing it
Long before you arrive make sure you are clear as to why you’re going to this terrifying event in the first place. Chances are no one is making you (though, if they are, and you can’t get out of it, find out why theywant you to go), which means you are going to this voluntarily, despite the fear.Why did you sign up? Why have you committed? What do you want to get out of it?
Not only will this help you recommit, and keep you grounded whilst you’re at the event, but if you give yourself a specific task to achieve, you can say your goodbyes as soon as it’s accomplished. Whilst we don’t necessarily recommend these approaches you could decide you want to:
- Get 20 business cards from people you don’t know
- Get three referrals
- Hand out business cards to everyone in the room
- Arrange a follow up meeting with two potential clients
#2 – Start talking
The whole point of a networking event is to talk to people. You’re not there to sprinkle your business cards around like confetti, or just dump them on a table, whilst hoping for the best. Essentially then you have two choices: you can either stand around on the edges of the room, hoping someone will talk to you OR you can approach someone else and just get started.
One of the best things you can do here is check out other people’s body language. If you see two people standing close to each other, deep in conversation, you’re probably wisest not to interrupt them. However, anyone lurking (sans food) by the buffet table, or standing (alone, in pairs or groups) facing towards the room, then chances are they are looking for someone else to talk to. Which means you have the perfect opportunity to be that person.
Once you’ve found someone you want to approach, start by simply introducing yourself. Make your life easier by having your opening pitch well rehearsed. Keep it short and sweet, but don’t forget to include your name, job title and the name of your business, for example: “Hi, I’m Niel Cope, Managing Director at People Matters HR, I don’t believe we’ve met.”
#3 – Ask, Don’t Tell
If you want to get people to talk to you then you have to ask them questions. Some people don’t need any excuse to tell you about themselves, but others might need some encouragement. Make sure you give some thought to appropriate questions you could ask people about their work.
- Classics include:
- How long have you worked for the business?
- What made you decide to be self-employed?
- Have you been to this event before?
- Where did you get the name for your business?
- Are your offices local?
There are so many others you can ask, but you get the idea.
The key here is to forget about your message. Despite what you think you are not at a networking event to sell yourself or your business. You are merely there to make contacts. Do that by talking, and more importantly listening to the other people in the room. Ask for business cards, and then make sure YOU follow up with them afterwards.
If you’re waiting for them to do all the running, chances are you’re going to be waiting a while.