There are countless benefits to networking in business and in personal life. Learning from your peers is one of the most inspiring and successful ways to gain new skills and meet new people.
Whether you want to build your contact base and develop new skills or totally start afresh and dive into a field you’re not-so-knowledgeable on, then it’s important to meet fresh faces. If you don’t put yourself, your name and your company out there – then you can’t expect to establish a reputation or create a positive buzz around you. In my experience, I have been amazed by the opportunities that have arisen out of attending networking events and meeting new people – people who can almost always introduce you to other influencers that can help you extend your network and create new opportunities as you do so.
I understand that some may find the prospect of networking a daunting one but, equally, many people find it to be a fun and rewarding part of their continued professional development. I believe it can be both, if you follow the below steps…
Although you may be under an element of pressure to generate leads or business cards, the best way to approach networking is to be yourself. You will be pleasantly surprised by just how much more enjoyable you’ll find the experience if you relax and go with an open mind. People don’t want to be sold to. People just want good conversation in good company. That’s not to say you shouldn’t set objectives; identify people you’d love to have a discussion with but, most importantly, make sure you’re yourself. Don’t be afraid of injecting a bit of your personality into that first meeting. Being memorable doesn’t mean being OTT, nor does it mean hogging the conversation! Other people’s stories are just as interesting as your own, if not more. So, make sure you speak to as many people as you can, covering the topics that are of mutual interest. Be natural, genuine and enjoy it.
When it comes to networking events, you should practice and perfect your introduction in advance. Try and get it down to 30 seconds to quickly grab the attention of whoever you happen to engage. For example, “Hello, I’m Cathy Hayward from Magenta Associates. We provide communications and PR services to businesses in the built environment, and we’ve just won the Sussex Small Business of the Year award! Nice to meet you.”
Once you’ve learned their name, start the conversation rolling – ask them why they’re there, is it what they expected, what are they hoping to get out of it, are there any other events they consider a “must”, and so forth.
Before, during, and after the event, make sure you’re engaging with the conversation online. Follow the hashtag and the Twitter handle for the event and the organiser to gauge the types of people and businesses attending. At the event, too, make sure that anything you share online is tagged appropriately. This is a good way to further connect with the people that you meet and also to those you didn’t get a chance to speak with.
At the actual event, if you feel a bit overwhelmed or nervous, approach someone who is also looking a little on-edge. They’ll be thankful they don’t have to stand on their own. If there are particular people you want to meet, don’t be afraid to make a direct beeline for them. Make sure that you know your stuff and approach them confidently. They’ll be complimented that you made the effort to research them and made the first move. Equally, when someone approaches you, make sure you give them your full attention. I’m sure we all have experienced at least once or twice, the feeling of someone losing interest or looking over your shoulder when speaking to them. Don’t be that person.
Once the event has finished, make sure that you follow up any commitments made. Don’t say that you’ll connect with someone afterwards, and then totally disappear. It’ll instantly black-mark you as someone who doesn’t stick to their word. There is no excuse not to connect with someone afterwards; not with the likes of LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram. In fact, there are so many ways of connecting now, with the individual personally and with their businesses.
Once you have attended a variation of events, why not push yourself even further by sharing your knowledge with others – whether it’s as a speaker, participating in panel debates, volunteering or even putting your hand up during the post-presentation Q&As? You will only benefit from it – free exposure for your name and your company, showing you know your stuff and that you care about the topics in question.
Remember, you will only get out of networking what you put in. The more networks you’re a part of, the more you become someone that people can turn to. This builds a comfortable network of people who are more than happy to lend and return favours here and there. If you can prove time after time that you’re a reliable, approachable and interesting person to have around, you will reap the rewards. So get out there, get handing out those business cards, contributing to different organisations, and attending those all-important events!
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