If you talk to most people about networking they will have a story to tell. It is one of the necessary trials of business professionals to put themselves into the networking arena on behalf of their company, their profession, or their other half. Love it or hate it, at some point you will be required to do it. Here is a 6 step guide to surviving networking….
Step 1 - Know why and where you want to network
It will help you if you are clear why you are networking. Common reasons can include:
- Making new business contacts
- Representing your organisation
- Supporting colleagues/partners who are attending
- Building your confidence in networking as you know it will become important in your career
- The event had a useful presentation topic you wanted to hear
- To practice conversation skills
- To meet the speaker
- To try out your elevator pitch (more on this later)
- You are a member of a professional body and networking events are part of the membership deal
You may have a mixture of the above or completely different reasons, but being clear on what they are will help you decide on how to ensure you get as much out of the event as you can.
If you know you want to network but are not sure where to begin, here are some ideas:
- If you are a member of a professional body they often run events for members, many of which are free, check out their websites.
- Your local library may have information about local business networking events.
- If you live in London, the British Library has the Business and IP Centre which holds a number of events which are worth keeping an eye on.
- Look at groups on LinkedIn, join those relevant to you and see what networking events they promote.
- Businesslink have an events finder service http://www.events.businesslink.gov.uk/ which enables you to find events in your area.
Step 2 - Get Good Quality Business Cards
This little bit of card is your chance to grab attention and say something unique about you. Ensure you have a selection of good quality business cards ready for the event. If you work for yourself it is easy when you are starting out to be tempted by low cost print deals on business cards - don't go there. These churn out a lot of flimsy cards with common designs. If you go down this route, I guarantee it won't be long before you find someone else at your networking event has the exact same design as you (if that does happen, complement the other person on their good taste then go home and bin the lot!).
Your business card is the first step in advertising yourself. Also make good use of the back of business cards. Some people use this to explain more about what they do, others put a bit about themselves, others include special offers, some offer motivational quotes. However you decide to use the back of the card it should always add value.
Step 3 - Practice the Lift Speech
By a lift speech we mean a short statement which sums up what you do in the time it would take to travel from the ground to the 10th Floor of a building (or less). If you can build the right wow factor into your opening line the rest will flow more easily. There is the famous story of the NASA janitor who when asked what he did he said 'I help put men on the moon'. What a great way to catch attention! At MindSightUK we say we ‘disrupt thinking’. What would be the opening line to describe your own business?
Once you have your opening line, consider what the next three things you will say about yourself should be, a good guide is to be able to answer questions around, how you help others, what is unique about your business, who do you help and also, if appropriate, what you are looking for out of this networking event (e.g. I really want to meet someone who can advise on building web sites).
Step 4 - Envision yourself at the Event (close your eyes - but after reading this section)
Visualise yourself at the event, what are you wearing? Will your shoes hurt your feet if you are standing for two hours talking to people - if so change them! How much stuff are you carrying? Is your bag bulky? Where is your coat? (Always make use of coat racks as the less you have to carry the better). Consider what will make it easy to move around and reduce strain, especially if you will also be carrying a plate and a glass!
Now look around the room. You will see some people standing on their own, some people busily talking in pairs and others in groups of 3 or more. How do you know who to approach?
Here are some quick tips:
- Groups of twos are harder to break into as they are likely to be in deep conversation - skip these
- Look at the groups of three or more, how are people standing? If they are standing in a tight circle, with their backs to the room, then knock them off your list too.
- Look for loosely formed groups with space between individuals, one or more people in the group may be standing at an angle to the group creating an 'opening', these are potential groups to join.
- Look at those standing on their own, if they are in the midst of the room then they are likely to welcome someone talking to them
- Look for people who smile - after all you want to enjoy yourself!
Avoid sitting down on your own to tuck into your canapés away from everyone, if you do this others are likely to leave you to your own devices. Also if you are approached and the person is a nightmare, it is much harder to make a quick exit if you have taken up residence in a chair! Networking is about moving around and talking to people.
Now close your eyes and imagine walking up to someone.........
Step 5 - Get the Conversation going
This can often be the bit most of us fear, what if I have nothing interesting to say, what if I am boring. The trick is to get others doing the talking, here's how.
Imagine you are joining a group. What is the first thing you say? Well this depends on the type of networking event, if there has been a speaker the easy options are to ask the person what they thought of the presentation.
Other good openers include:
What attracted you to this event?
What line of business are you in (and go on to ask about the challenges they face)?
A good approach is to see networking events as a way of building relationships rather than harvesting contacts. In this way you will focus on the person in front of you and getting to know them. Listen carefully to what they say, ask relevant questions, focus your eyes on them (and avoid looking past them at all costs).
People are usually comfortable talking about what they do, their work challenges (especially if they have just had the day from hell). Focus on how you could help them (what contacts you have, what experience you have).
There are four basic rules here:
Rule 1 - Get them talking
Rule 2 - Listen carefully and develop the conversation based on what they say
Rule 3 - Share an
insight or something to help, e.g. have you seen the xx website which had an
article on this topic, or there was a good article on that in
Rule 4 - Focus on building relationships not collecting contacts
Step 6 - Close the conversation and follow up on promises
Ok you are nearly there now.
The aim of networking is to move around and talk to different people, so what is the best way to end one conversation and move on to the next. The first thing to remember is that at networking events people expect you to do this. So it is ok to say 'It was great talking to you, I want to speak to a few more people before I go, so please excuse me". If the person is interesting and you want to stay in touch, or if you think they would be a good potential business prospect, you want to leave with contact details. Pushing a business card in someone's face is not the most subtle way to exit. However one good way of getting them to want to take your card is to say:
"It was really interesting talking to you, it would be good to stay in touch on LinkedIn". If the person agrees then either they will pass you their card or you can casually pass your own card and say 'great, my contact email is on this card, lets linkup"
... often they reciprocate and give you their card too.
Another approach which works, is, after listening to someone talk, you realise you know of an article or a web link which will help them. Offer to email it to them and casually ask if they have a business card with their email address.
Soon after the event, follow up with the promised email containing the information you promised, and importantly add their details to your contact database. Look out for them at similar events and remember to say hello, remember you are in the business of establishing relationships!
And that is it. Simple! So when is your next networking event?