Networking events can feel daunting but it’s not just you that feels this way. Everyone struggles sometimes. However, it is definitely worth making the effort. 70% of jobs are found through networking. Contacts are made that can have a hugely positive impact on your business. You get known around the business community, so that people think of you when they need the thing you provide.
What to expect at networking.
Every meeting is different. At Harrogate and Wetherby Live you can expect open networking in a relaxed environment. Just ask one of the team to make some introductions if you aren’t sure where to start.
At more formal networking events such as BNI, 4Networking and Network B2B (other groups are available) you can expect scripted and very well organised meetings that follow a specific sequence, often over breakfast. These will require you to stand up to do a 40 second or 60 second pitch. It’s not as scary as it sounds. It takes around 90 words to fill that time. You don’t need to say lots. Just be clear about who you are, what you do, and how you can help people. For BNI, add in who you want an introduction to.
These are the five things that I’ve heard most often from newbie networkers.
‘I don’t like small talk’
Very few people do actually. It’s actually easier if you join an existing conversation rather than starting the conversation from scratch. Look for a physical gap between two or more people having a chat and ask, in a gap in the conversation, whether you can join them. If people are facing each other head on, and are relatively close together, they are closed and it’s best not to approach. If two people are talking and their bodies are forming two sides of a triangle, with a gap where you can stand, then they are “open” and you can politely approach.
‘I’m bad at remembering names’
If this is you, it can be helpful to check the guest list ahead of time and look up the people you would particularly like to meet on LinkedIn. It can also help to use the person’s name as soon as possible during the ensuing conversation as this can help to cement memory. Obviously don’t go overboard, keep it natural. Of course you can ask for their business card and if you can possibly do so, discreetly make a quick note on the card to jog your memory on your return home. Particularly important if you’ve had a great conversation and want to keep in touch, invite them for coffee or have promised to send them some information on a mutually interesting subject. You may be lucky and be attending an event where the organisers have provided “Hello, my name is” stickers. Some of the paid networking groups issue badges to their members which can be very helpful for visitors.
"I’m shy" or "I am an introvert"
Getting started in a conversation can be the most difficult part and it can be helpful to have a few lines in mind that can get the conversation started. Obviously you can start with “So what do you do?” but this doesn’t tend to start a meaningful conversation. It can be helpful to try something that needs a longer and more illuminating answer such as:
What are you hoping to get from this event?
What’s your story? – this is great because people can answer seriously, frivolously, professionally or personally and the way they choose to answer can tell you a lot about the person.
‘I find it hard to approach someone new’
Oddly enough, what you wear can help with this one. If you wear something that stands out, whether it’s a floral shirt, bright tie, fabulous scarf or beautiful necklace, this gives people an easy way to start talking to you – complimenting you on your undoubted good taste, asking where you get your shirts, or admiring your fancy boots. It can also make you memorable.
On a similar note, to ensure you are remembered across multiple networking groups (because you will feel confident enough to do that once you’ve read these tips), why not have a signature look. It doesn’t need to be elaborate, a jacket in your corporate colour, wearing the same colour sweater at each meeting, or always wearing a scarf, or boldly patterned shirts. You can also have business cards designed which are unusual or innovative; from mobile phone shaped to business cards that are also mint holders, there are so many ways to stand out using a business card and they provide a great talking point.
‘It’s a waste of my time – nothing ever comes of it’
You get out of networking what you put in. Some events you’ll come away with little, other events you’ll come away clutching a wad of business cards from really exciting and interesting people.
Have a really clear idea of why you are in the room; what do you want to achieve from the meeting; greater visibility? Two new clients? Meet Mr Bowker who is CEO of the company you really want to work at? Once you have a clear picture of what you want to achieve, your strategy is set.
For greater visibility, chat to lots of people and follow up with as many as you have time for.
Two new clients? Check the guest list, ask for an introduction to your possible clients, either via the organiser or during the event by asking those you meet if they know Mr X and could introduce you.
For something as specific as meeting Mr Bowker, ask the organiser to tell you more about Mr Bowker, explain why you want to know, and then ask for an introduction.
If you start the conversation, you will be in charge of where it goes to. If you just join everyone else’s conversation and never steer the conversation in the direction you’d like it to go, then you may never advance your own agenda but instead you’ll be helping others to advance theirs. There is, of course, a place for both your agenda and theirs. A good networker will help others to achieve their own goals because in the process you will achieve your own.
Finally, networking does not end with the event, it starts with it.
Follow up with coffee.
Send them an article or something you know they will find interesting.
Send a follow up email referencing your conversation.
Link with them on LinkedIn.
Find them on Facebook or Twitter and comment on their posts.
Don't do all of these for every person and don't be a stalker. However, everyone likes to think others are interested in them. And if you stay on the radar, people will recall you when they need your products or services.