For many people, the prospect of networking can be a scary thought. Most professionals are knowledgeable and skilled in aspects of their own professions, but can become wary when they need to apply this in a social situation.
To combat this, Fenton staff were recently treated to a session on networking by Jane Fenton, who outlined her strategy for removing the fear and making the most of networking events.
The first thing to ask yourself is “What do I want out of this?” If the answer is ‘free food’ it might be time to reassess.
It is important to set realistic expectations and clear goals for yourself, think about the sort of events where you might make the most meaningful connections.
Before the event
Be organised. Anything you can do to make the event less stressful for yourself is a good idea. Ensure you have enough business cards and somewhere easy to store them, as well as a nice place to store ones that you are given.
Prepare or think about questions and answers. Hopefully conversations will flow naturally, but it helps to have a few questions up your sleeve to fill any awkward silences. Focus on high energy questions that prompt positive responses such as “What’s the most interesting project you’ve worked on?”
Be early rather than late. Whilst it may be tempting to put off your arrival, tardiness makes networking more difficult. If you are early, you have easy access to the host and can stand with them as they greet arriving guests.
Beating “The Fear”
“The Fear” when you first walk in to a busy room that everyone is looking at you can be debilitating, causing you to look at the ground or pretend to be engrossed by your mobile phone. Whilst grabbing your phone is probably the wrong tactic, looking busy isn’t.
Give yourself a purpose to help you focus on something other than your heart rate. Set yourself a challenge such as to find a “man with red tie” or “three women” and do a circuit of the room with the purpose of finding it.
Whilst on your search, listen out for conversations between people who clearly don’t know each other (tip: if they’re talking about that wild party last weekend, they probably know each other and unless you were there, you’re not going to have much to bring to the conversation).
The key to making new connections it to make yourself memorable, preferably not by being “that one who spilt their drink on me”. Think about how you will introduce yourself and most importantly, how to explain what you do. Don’t just tell people your title, tell them what you do. Jane suggests the formula “You know how (common problem), well I (solution).”
The other fear of networking events is being stuck with the most boring person in the room, or worse yet, being that person. This trap is a result of our excellent upbringing and being taught to always be polite. Take your cues from the other person by keeping an eye on their body language.
No matter how boring someone is, leaving them on their own is not polite. Instead suggest joining another group or introducing yourselves to someone that is on their own. The general line of “This is a networking event, let’s meet some people” is always a good motivator to mix things up.
As a last resort, a toilet break always does the trick.
It is polite to request someone’s business card before offering your own. Show respect by making sure you read the business card before you put it away. In some cultures it is important to take the card with both hands too.
The whole point of networking events is to use the contacts you make. Follow up with your contacts on a point of mutual interest (it might be a good idea to write notes on the back of their business card if you’re likely to forget who’s who).
If you have met people that you have a genuine business connection, connect to them via social media as well, such as adding them on LinkedIn or following them on Twitter. This can help you make sure that you maintain regular contact, rather than just contacting them when you have a business proposition.
By Alex Haddon