The consensus of opinion on networking is that is a necessary evil. We know that it’s a proven and effective way of helping your business. Networking raises the profile of your company, and you as an individual. It’s also a great way to develop new skills, and fill your contacts list with the names of skilled and talented people.
But networking isn’t easy. Even the most extroverted person gets fatigued by introducing themselves to a room full of strangers. And while we’re making great strides towards equality, high level networking events are still often dominated by men. So how can you hold your own?
When you’re networking, you are representing yourself and your business or employer. There’s no need to act any differently at a networking event than you would at any other business meeting. If you’re an introvert, don’t try and ape the extroverts in the room. Represent yourself: What you see is what you get.
What can you give?
Don’t just go into a networking meeting thinking about what you can get out of it. That’s not what networking is about, and it will make you feel inferior to those you are going to talk to.
Instead, think about what you bring to the table. Your skills, experience, enthusiasm…whatever it is, be prepared to share them. Someone at the meeting will be looking for what you have to offer.
Do your research
If there are any key speakers or businesses that you would particularly like to connect with, research them beforehand. That means that when you get to have a conversation, you won’t be going in completely cold. You’ll have a conversation opener prepared, and that will make the whole process of approaching someone far less daunting.
Dodging the flirt
In spite of this article in Forbes, where a contributor mansplained the advantages of women flirting in business, studies have shown that whilst flirting may have it’s advantages in negotiations, it has unpleasant side effects in the long term.
But what if you’re on the receiving end of some flirtatious behaviour? In a post-#metoo world we can’t deny that even in business settings we can be vulnerable. Your best offence is a defence. Make sure that you interact with everyone in a business-like manner:
- Exchange names and shake hands, firmly.
- Avoid giving the ‘wrong signals’; don’t touch another person, or get into a situation where you need to huddle together (for example when sharing literature to read, or viewing something on a smart phone).
- Keep your eye contact up – business-like eye contact is in the eye, not lower than the nose. Don’t hold another person’s gaze for too long
- Create a mental barrier by keeping something between you; your bag, or holding your coffee cup between you.
- Keep the topic strictly business, don’t stray into your personal life.
If all else fails, be prepared to walk away, even if it seems like a great contact to make.
The editor of US Vogue, Anna Wintour, advocates not eating or drinking at networking events. Why? Well, if you’re of a clumsy nature then you avoid the risk of spilling something on yourself (or someone else!)
It can also be awkward to have a conversation while eating; who hasn’t been asked a question just as you’ve shoved a canape in your mouth? And alcohol? Well, let’s just say none of us are as smart or charming as we think we are after a few drinks.
As soon as you can after the meeting, go through the business cards that you’ve been given and make some notes on who gave them to you. Then in the following days drop people an email and connect again.
A quick thank you, following up on anything they’ve offered to you or that you can do for them can be the start of a great business relationship.
Although networking can be intimidating, it’s a popular business tool for a reason. It works. It might not be immediate; the chances of walking into a room and sealing the deal of the century as a result are slim. The people you talk to might not deal with you directly. But the next day, week, month they may be talking to someone else who does need what you do. You made a good impression, so they pass on your contact details.
So, the next time you see an invitation to a networking event, don’t turn it down. Look on it as a way that you can find others who can help and support you, and who you can help and support in your turn, and it will page dividends in the long run.
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