Some people are ‘naturals’ when it comes to ‘working a room’ (networking). Others aren’t. In fact, most people do not enjoy networking at all.
In this post, I’ll be sharing some of the guidelines for networking that have helped me in my career, as well as some tried-and-tested tips to make sure your first networking event is a successful one.
Three Ideas to Have in Mind about Networking
- Networking is in fact a ‘filtering exercise’ to help you identify and build a relationship with the right people.
- Networking is not selling. Sadly, this is a common reason put forward by those who do not enjoy networking – they feel they are ‘selling themselves’ and are uncomfortable with doing so. But know this: no-one will make a purchasing decision at a networking event even if they do seem excited about your services or products. You will have to continue the conversation outside of the networking event to find out if they do, in fact, want to buy anything from you.
- Networking isn’t about business-card spamming (although you’ll need to take your business cards with you to give to the right people). In fact, even if you forget your business cards, you can still have a great networking meeting. Simply use the business cards you receive to write down key information.
Tips to Help you Survive Your First Networking Event
Identify one or two outcomes you’d like to take from the event. This could be: to make a certain number of new contacts, to set up a number of post-event meetings or to gain a new lead. Having a goal will give you purpose and keep you from randomly going from one person to another.
Be positive. If you spot someone you’d like to talk to, go for it. All you need to do is ask if you can join their conversation. The chances are that they’ll agree. The fact that you’ve asked politely will give a good first impression of you - you’ll be remembered as a confident and professional person.
Ask about the other person first. Remember that people love to talk about themselves. The other advantage of asking about others first is that it helps you to tailor your conversation for mutual benefit later on.
Ask the right questions. Aim to ask ‘open questions’: questions that cannot be responded to with a simple “yes” or “no”. It’s also important to ask questions that will help you to understand what the person you are talking to is responsible for in their place of work, i.e. their priorities, current projects, and challenges. Asking the right questions help you position yourself as someone who can help them. One of the best questions I have been asked at a networking event is, “Who would be a good contact for you?”
It’s unlikely that you’ll remember everything you’ve learned, so make notes, ideally on the person’s business card.
Talk about what you do. More importantly, talk about the purpose of your role, i.e. what your role enables. For example, if you’re an accountant, instead of, “I’m an accountant at JMB Partners”, consider instead, “I help companies reduce their tax bill”. If time allows, give your best examples.
Wrap up the conversation with a view to the future. Once your conversation is over, make sure you ask your contact for a business card and when they would like you to get in touch. Make a note of these details, ideally on their business card. Many first-time networkers forget to do this but it’s fundamental to successful networking. Then wrap up the conversation with a closing line such as, “I’ve enjoyed this conversation. I’ll get in touch next week, as discussed.”
Networking is an excellent way to increase the chances of getting the job you want. It doesn’t need to be difficult. Armed with the guidelines and tips above, you can be confident that your first networking event will be a success.
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