I am an outgoing person and love to socialise but that does not mean I am a whizz at a conference event or industry mingle. Meeting people socially is about having fun and connecting but there is little pressure. Networking is about creating connections that will increase your business, and hopefully salary, so the stakes are higher!
Here are the top points that will make it (a little bit) easier for you:
Do your research
Before you attend an event, find out as much as you can about who is hosting and attending it. If there is a showcase speaker, then do a quick Google search on them. Find out what they do, where they work, their recent talks or key achievements. These are a great way to help you think of conversation starters.
If they are presenting at the event, then listen and use their discussion points to engage with them. This will give you more confidence in approaching them. “I thought your points about growth routines were really interesting.”; “I loved your approach about implementing social media campaigns effectively and would love to know more about…….?” or “Your talk was great and I found you very insightful. I would like to introduce myself, I am ……”.
You can also do the same thing with the attendees – if you can. Find out any information about them or their industry, so you have some knowledge to help you connect.
Arrive at the beginning when there are a small number of people present, it makes it easier to strike up conversation. The early attendees will automatically start talking and so you can get your own conversation partner from the start. If you turn up late you run the risk of being left clutching your drink and canapé, as everyone else chats away and ignores you.
People connect with people they like and trust and if you can establish that early on it makes a big difference. We have all been stuck talking to some strange, self-obsessed or disingenuous individual and then had to avoid them for the rest of the evening. Don’t be that person!
It is infectious and you will draw people in. If you are in a bad mood or hate your job – then act otherwise; no one needs to know your woes.
Ditch the sell
Find out what people do and find out what their needs are. You can then build a rapport and discuss ways you can help them (if you can) without ramming it down their throats. There is no rush to make a deal there and then as you can always follow up after the event. If you did genuinely connect with a person they will be more willing to take your call or read your email. Networking is about building relationships for the future.
Listening is key. Always try to get others to talk first, then you can understand what they do and reply with ideas of how you can help them. If you can’t help them, then chat to them generally as they may be able to introduce you to someone who will benefit from your skills. Listen to people and don’t hijack the conversation.
Look ‘together’ and follow the required dress code. You can of course show your personality with a quirky tie, socks or statement jewellery but you want to be taken seriously. As much as we hate to admit it, we all make assumptions about people from first looks. It may deter people from wanting to interact with you if they think you are not serious.
Desperation and awkwardness shines like a beacon. Go in with the thought that if you make just one contact it will be worth it. Any more than that is a bonus. Also, you may make a connection with someone who does not need your expertise now but could in the future. If the relationship is nurtured it could become a great opportunity at another time.
How to start a conversation
I know it is not easy but if you do find yourself without someone to network with, take a deep breathe and scan the room to see if there is a way you can join others. Do you know anyone else who will introduce you to their group? Is there a crowd of people with a space for another person to join? Then simply enter into that space (don’t try and squeeze yourself into a non- existent one!), relax and say “Hi, I’m x, do you mind if I join your discussion?” only the very rude will say no! Or just listen for a while and then contribute.
Alternatively, use your surroundings or situation to connect with someone. If you are standing by the buffet, for an example, make a comment about the food to encourage the person next to you to start talking. Or if you are in a great venue then mention that or it can be something as cheesy as “I love your dress (or bow tie), nice to meet you I am…. and you are?” As long as it does not sound like a terrible chat up line and you are friendly and genuine most people will respond. Or even ask them why they are at the event, most times they will be relieved you started the conversation for them!
At the end of it all, don’t forget to follow up with the contacts you met or your hard work was not worth it at all!
There are endless tips but these are the key things to get you started. Over time I am sure you will have your own advice to share with others as you get more experienced at it.
So grab your business cards, look professional, grab a drink (but not too many) and (an easy to eat) canapé, take a deep breathe, tell yourself that you have fab skills and get networking!