Networking is an essential in today’s crowded business world, yet so many of us run in horror from the thought of it.
The idea of walking into a room full of people fills some people with total dread. Others seem to network naturally when they’re away from work but as soon as they’re at a work event, they become self -conscious. And the rest can’t see what the problem is. They live to network!
For many of us, it’s easier to network online where you don’t actually have to speak to anyone or even get dressed for the occasion, but don’t be fooled.
Face to face networking is an essential element in your business skillset, an authentic way to raise your profile and help promote your product or services. You get to meet people face to face, but let’s leave the ‘me first’ attitude at the door.
It’s not about diving in with a hard sell or pitching for a job. It’s about getting to know people and letting people get to know you.
It’s about forming relationships, asking what you can do for others and, as a result, expanding your horizons and opportunities.
It’s also a skill that we can use in every aspect of life. Try it. You might get to love it. If you’re unsure, keep this A – Z handy to see you through.
– A – A-LISTERS
At an event with A-listers among the guests …?
Don’t just speak to the important people or hog them as you tell them all about yourself, at length!
Introduce yourself by all means, then get a card so that you can follow up the next day. Allow them to share the love…
– B – BUSINESS
It’s not all about business. Ask yourself what you can do for others.
Be generous, offer your help – it might not have anything to do with business initially, and that’s OK.
– C – CARDS
Have your business cards at the ready. Make sure they’re up to date and good quality, so that you’re proud to give them out!
Make sure, too, to get the other person’s card so that you can follow up even if they don’t.
– D – DISREGARD NO-ONE
You never know who might turn out to be worth knowing. It’s worth speaking to everybody. You never know when it could be the start of something great.
Connect with people in different sectors to your own. We all have different personalities, different interests and different skills. A broad network can ultimately serve everyone well.
– E – EXPECTATIONS
Have intentions rather than expectations. Intend to meet people who will inspire you rather than help you – and don’t expect anything in return.
The fact that you’ve reached out and made a connection does NOT mean that person is in your debt!
– F – FOLLOW-UP
Always follow up, preferably the day after the event or first contact through online media or by phone.
If you take someone’s card at an event, send them an email the next day to say how great it was to connect and, if appropriate, offer your services should they require them at any stage. Again, this is not about the hard sell.
Check out their website and connect with them online, like their pages, follow them on Twitter and Instagram – whatever’s available.
– G – GENUINE
Be your authentic self. People can see through pretence a mile off. Be genuinely interested in others and genuine with what you offer to do for people, too.
– H – HOST YOUR OWN EVENT
Why not? It doesn’t have to be expensive or take up much of your time.
You could hold a gathering of friends and colleagues every week or every month, preferably on the same day of the week and at the same time and place so that people get to know it.
About an hour and a half is a good length of time – any longer and people come and go without meeting each other.
Meet after work, maybe, in your office or home where you can serve a modest wine and water, or even just tea and coffee. In a pub, people can pay for their own drinks.
Invite a good mix of people who you know well, as well as others you might just have met, and importantly, to grow your network, suggest they bring a friend!
– I – INTRODUCTIONS
It’s not all about you. Show a genuine interest in the people you meet and you’ll be surprised by what it might lead to.
Make sure you introduce people, even someone you’ve just met, to others in the room. It’s a kindness that doesn’t go unnoticed in social situations.
– J – JOKES
Keep any tendency to start telling jokes at bay. While you don’t want to be po-faced, you don’t want to bore or offend anyone, either! A smile and a friendly enquiry will be appreciated much more.
– K – KARMA
Yes, what goes around comes around and if you step over the mark in terms of what’s acceptable, you’ll find out very quickly.
It might not ruin your life exactly, but you could just miss out on the OPPORTUNITY of your life…!
– L – LISTS
Ideally, you might want to keep a list of who you’ve met and where, along with all their details. Create a spreadsheet or put it into a contacts system.
Cold and calculating? Not really. It creates a good impression when you can ask how someone’s wife or husband is by name, or ask how their son’s doing at university.
One note on email lists – remember that giving someone your business card does NOT give permission for their email address to be added to your auto-responder mailing list.
Keep it personal, until you’ve asked permission and it’s been granted.
– M – MESSAGE
How would you describe what you or your business does in 15 words or fewer? You’re bound to be asked.
It’s a tough exercise but a great way to ensure you’re always on message. It cuts out the danger of you being tongue-tied and lets you cut to the chase without wasting any time.
– N – NURTURE YOUR NETWORK
Once you’ve connected with people, keep in touch. Again, this isn’t about selling, this is about relationship.
Tell them what you’re up to. Invite them to a networking event. Introduce them to other people in your network who can help them.
Open up and share interests, goals and ideas. Offer your help with their own aspirations.
– O – OPENER
It’s very simple – introduce yourself with your name and maybe what you do. Then ask the other person about themselves.
Try relaxed questions: “Who do you know here?” and “What brought you here today?” are two perfectly acceptable openers.
– P – PAY ATTENTION
Pay attention to the person you’re talking to. Nothing puts people off more than the over-the-shoulder gaze that signals you’re not interested in them but in who else might be around.
Learn how to listen and respect what people have to say.
– Q – QUESTIONS
Be interested in the people you meet. This is how you find out whether you have anything in common. You never know, a similar interest could be the start of a great friendship OR a great business relationship, but you may never know if you don’t ask.
– R – RAPPORT
Verbal and non- verbal communication skills come into play here. One way of encouraging rapport is to lean in a little to the person who’s speaking, nod encouragement and smile.
Allow them to speak without talking over them. Once they’ve finished, you can reflect back to them what they’ve said and ask a follow-on question.
Remember to honour any promises you make, even if it’s as small as sending them some information by email.
– S – SMALL TALK
It’s an essential skill. The big stuff isn’t always appropriate. Small talk is the stuff of relationship building. It’s the glue that helps to bond us together.
This is where we get the measure of a person, work out who they are and where they’re coming from.
– T – TIME
Make the time to attend networking events, and while you’re there, refrain from wasting time – yours or others’. Be aware that at a networking event you will generally have a finite length of time to work the room, so make the most of it. Allocate your time wisely.
If you see someone you know and want to discuss something specific with them, ask them if they have the time first.
Oh, and another T… remember to THANK people for their time and attention and always thank the host!
– U – UPDATE
Make sure your websites, blogs and all online material are up to date so that when you hand out your business card, people can find out everything they need to know.
And keep your lists up to date. Make it a habit at the end of every networking opportunity.
– V – VALUE
Always give value. Even over-deliver, if you like,and DON’T ask for favours straight away!
– W – WALKING INTO THE ROOM
Nervous about walking into a room of people? Take a few moments to focus on your intentions for the event, remember what outcomes you’re looking for and take a few deep breaths.
So, what happens if you walk into the room and you don’t know anyone? A good host will usually notice you and take matters in hand. However, they might be busy elsewhere!
What to do? Easy – get yourself a drink and look for someone who’s on his or her own. Then walk up to that person and say hello.
Work the room. Take the lead. It’s fine to introduce yourself to people – they expect it at a networking event!
Take it easy at first with the full-blown elevator pitch. The trick here is to relax and enjoy yourself – and the new people you’re meeting.
– X – EXAMPLES
Have stories and examples ready to tell to illustrate what you do and what you’re interested in. This way you always have something to fall back on in conversation.
– Y – YES!
Say ‘Yes!’ to enjoying the whole experience and throw yourself into it with enthusiasm. Remember that you won’t be the only one who doesn’t know everyone.
That’s the point of networking!
– Z – ZEN
And finally… if you’re shy in this kind of situation, you might try the technique of pre -rehearsing in your mind how you want the event to go. It’s a technique athletes use to prepare themselves for victory in their sport and it works!
Before you head to the venue, take some time to imagine everything from arriving to leaving, feeling how good it feels, hearing what you want to hear and seeing everything unfold, as you would want it to.
You’ll be surprised by how much this technique can calm your nerves and lead to a successful outcome!
by JJ Stenhouse, 2017