Quite a few people have given me feedback on my Better Networking leaflet lately and, in particular, they have asked for some thoughts on face-to-face networking at events, so I have pulled together a few more pointers. So much of the success of such events depends on your attitude to yourself.
We all know the scenario – in a fit of enthusiasm for expanding our range of contacts, we committed to go to a ‘networking evening’ a few weeks ahead. The day arrives sooner than we expected and we have a bundle of better things to do, but our conscience gets the better of us and we set off in a bit of a hurry and expecting to be a little late. On the way, we consider turning around a couple of times, and when we arrive in the car park we also give it some serious thought. However, we’re there so we’d better go ahead. Entering the room, we see the usual characters – a little cluster of committee-types in the distance engaged in earnest conversation, a few pairs giving their attention to one another desperate to look interested and actually panicking that they are going to have to say something intelligent in a moment, and a couple of individuals standing on the edge of the group. At this point we spot the wine waiter and gladly grab a glass. Now what do we do?
Let’s begin before you leave for the event and certainly in the car on the way…
Be realistic about yourself and what you would like out of the meetings you are about to have.
If you don’t have some clear outcomes that you are looking for then the conversation will be aimless, lacking purpose, though potentially perfectly acceptable socially. There’s nothing wrong with going to a networking event simply to have a drink and enjoy meeting a few folks. However, it isn’t usually the purpose of the event, and you are unlikely to achieve certain kinds of outcome (such as new leads, collaborators, suppliers, innovations for your business) from the time.
Be prepared to ask other people what they are looking for from the ‘networking’ too. It can be a good way of developing a conversation.
Also be prepared for the fact that some participants HAVE come to make a number of initial acquaintances and to build a deeper rapport later. They won’t be too happy to linger as you go into a deep explanation of the inner workings of your latest paradigm!
It really doesn’t matter what you are wearing but it is important that you feel confident.
Some people, such as Richard Branson, appear confident in very relaxed clothes, others can’t relax unless they are in a designer suit. Spend time becoming sure of yourself and what you feel confident in. Tweak it to perfection, and then wear it. Yes, there ARE norms of dress in certain industries and certain environments, but confidence is MUCH more important than matching the norms. By confident, I do NOT mean being relaxed. Sadly, I often come across people who seem to think they must dress in a suit and then look stiff and anxious at the same event as others are dressed in cords and a pullover looking calm and confident. You can’t give someone your full attention when you are feeling awkward and all they go away with is an impression of an uncomfortable person and an uncomfortable conversation.
A handshake can cement long-term positive feelings and help you remember names!
When you approach someone, get eye-to-eye contact, stand tall, relax your shoulders. Smile, pause, and then offer your hand in a vertical fashion (thumb and fingers arranged above one another), firmly but not too firmly. While holding their hand, take a breath, and say; “Hello,
When you are parting company, again get eye-to-eye contact, smile, then a second handshake, this time using your other hand to gently enfold their elbow or upper arm, accompanied with: “It’s been good talking, …, I hope we’ll meet again soon.”
You will be staggered how many other people’s names you will remember and how many people will remember yours. They will also feel far more affinity to you than to other people.
Lots of people feel relieved to find anyone to talk to and then don’t move on soon enough.
Remember that the reason YOU are there is to network – that means meeting as many people as possible and with both of you warmly remembering a little about the other. You can’t say that you have achieved this if you only speak to a small handful of potentials. Longer, deeper, more meaningful exchanges can be had later by meeting one-to-one – the job at this event is to prepare the ground for future contact.
If you are one of those folks who find yourself sticking close to a few people, challenge yourself to do better. Set yourself goals, such as: “I’m going to introduce myself to double numbers!” or “I’m going to make sure I collect a dozen business cards.” or “I’m going to talk to four people I have never met before.” Repeat this goal setting on a half dozen occasions and achieve the goals and you’ll find you’ve got it cracked!
Connect with people as equals.
NEVER consider yourself above another person, nor as an inferior or subordinate. Always look for some connection between you during the conversation, having identified it and without necessarily speaking about it, use your ‘insider knowledge’ to ask them questions about their experience. This makes them feel listened to, and they will leave the conversation with you feeling better.
Judging people is a dangerous sport, best left to professionals!
Be careful not to talk about yourself too much.
Monitor how much you use “I”, “You” and “We in your conversation. Take responsibility for the conversation (as a DIALOGUE) guiding it if it becomes one sided or negative. People don’t have positive feelings towards braggers, but they do towards listeners.
I hope you’ll find these useful. If you have anything to add, or would care to share your experiences, do call.