As part of my day job as the marketing manager for an art gallery, I attend networking events fairly regularly.
Networking events are a chance to meet with other professionals, chat about what you do and see if there’s any potential to work together, secure a new client, share connections or utilise the services of others.
Events can take a number of different formats but my favourite is the informal, mingling kind. It never feels natural to me, however, to just walk up to someone I don’t know and engage in a conversation, but the more events I attend, the easier it gets.
And so, after attending a summer social hosted by The Mussel Club at The Vermont Hotel the other week, I thought I’d share a few of my do’s and don’ts for the networking newbies among you. Hopefully, these tips will calm your nerves, help you mix with others more easily – and crucially, get you swapping those shiny business cards. Best of luck!
Ok, so you don’t want to seem too keen by lurking outside the venue, but I always ensure I arrive promptly whenever the event is due to start. Why? It’s not just to ensure you get your hands on the complimentary fizz. When there’s fewer people, it’s so much easier to chat, especially before the cliques form. And it means you can scan the room as it begins to fill up and identify people you’d like to
stalk talk to next.
A simple smile instantly makes you more approachable and it will also put the other person at ease too. Follow your smile with a ‘hello’ and you’re onto a winner!
And while I’m talking about smiling, consider your body language from top to toe. Don’t fold your arms, ensure you make eye contact (but don’t stare, that just makes things a tad uncomfortable) and be aware who you have your back to, as you don’t want to exclude anyone from the conversation.
Put your phone away
I know, it’s a comfort thing. You’re on your own, everyone else is nattering away, you panic and pull out your phone and start scrolling… But you must resist! If you’re glued to your phone, it’s unlikely anyone will approach you. And it means you’ll miss the opportunity to catch someone’s eye and get a conversation going.
Save your phone for photo opportunities (like my little snap from the Vermont’s Sky Lounge) that you can then use on those all-important LinkedIn updates and tweets.
Prepare your entrance
It can help to have a couple of go-to opening lines to avoid that awkward moment of having nothing to say. There are two key scenarios to prep for – striking up a conversation with another person also on their own or approaching a group of people already mid-chat.
For scenario one, it can be something as simple as introducing yourself and asking what business the other person is from, or you might want to make an observation about the event – it could be the surroundings, the turnout, the food and drink – and this will almost always open up a dialogue with others.
If you’re approaching a group – I find that ‘hi, can I join your conversation’ is polite and to the point. And remember – everybody is there to meet other people – so this is the one social situation where’s it’s completely acceptable to walk up to strangers and talk.
I’ve had some bad experiences with food at networking events, everything from getting tiny morsels stuck between my teeth and dropping sauce down my chin to ending up with stains on my blouse. I’ve also bitten into a canapé that turned out to be something I absolutely hate (marzipan, anyone?) and I had no choice but to eat it in front of the other person. I still feel nauseous thinking about it…
My solution is to avoid food all together. It just removes another source of anxiety and lets you chat more freely without having to eat and talk at the same time. Plus, if everyone else in your group is busy munching on treats, it gives you the chance to lead the conversation for a bit and talk about your organisation, product or service.
Take your business cards
It’s a given, but make sure you take plenty of business cards with you and, more importantly, make them easily accessible! There’s nothing worse than getting to that all-important point of exchanging cards and having to rummage through your handbag with a glass of fizz in hand, then awkwardly passing said glass of fizz to the other person while you try to locate your cards. As for business cards you collect – always follow up with a short email within a week of the event taking place to keep the momentum going.
For me, networking is about promoting what you do, as opposed to selling it. And there’s a subtle difference. You should be able to sum up what you do in just a couple of sentences. Listen to others and be curious; it’s not all about you, and by asking questions you might unearth a valuable nugget of information that could lead onto a project or collaboration you’d never even considered.
If you want to be memorable – be yourself. They say people do business with people they like and that’s so true, so try to let your personality shine through. After you’ve done your business chat, I find that more lighthearted conversation topics work best. I’m not suggesting you randomly start talking about the new series of Great British Bake Off – you can still keep it professional, but interesting and topical. This shows you’re personable and friendly, and the type of person someone might like to work with in the future.
Practice makes perfect
The truth is, networking can be a daunting yet rewarding experience. And I don’t just mean in terms of generating leads for your business. It’s the perfect scenario for developing your communication skills – both talking and listening – and it can really boost your confidence. You might even make a new friend or two along the way too (true story).
I no longer feel overwhelmed by the idea of walking into a room on my own and this applies not just to professional networking events, but blogger soirees and social situations, too. So all in all, I’m thankful for the experience and try to attend as many networking events as possible.
What are your top tips for successful networking? Share yours below!
Until next time,