I hate networking. I know… I’m a Professional Speaker and former Event Manager and Public Relations Officer, I am happy talking to large audiences, yet like almost everyone I know I dread going to networking, it fills me with an unhealthy amount of anxiety. Go figure?! Or at least it used to until recently. Networking skills training was added to my training portfolio about 5 years ago. Up until last week I have only ever found one person who enjoys networking, last week I met two people who enjoy it… maybe the times are turning? But I find in our society where we are more physically disconnected than ever before (seemingly more connected via social media and emails) networking is an area of real struggle for many professionals.
Start by breaking the networking into three parts; before the event planning, the event itself and then after event follow up. Now just as a premise please note networking is not selling your goods or services to the people in the room. It’s about making genuine connections with people so you can meet them again outside the event. Meeting someone once and taking their card is not a connection. If you don’t have one or two follow up meetings the connection is dead. Think about rather than having a ‘machine gun’ approach of meeting lots of people and getting 100s of cards of people will never meet again, entering them into your database (this is unethical by the way), you must consider how you can make a genuine connection with one or two people at an event and then facilitate a meeting with them.
First, research information that could be good small talk openers. Find out about the speaker and a little about the topic for pre-speech networking. Research any industries of relevant and especially news related to these. Then research topical global or local news events that are great common conversation pieces. Things like: Trump, Brexit, North Korea, sharks (I live in Western Australia, it’s a great talking point), at the time Johnny Depp and Amber Heard’s ‘Dog Gate’ was fantastic immigration chat… you get the idea, things that are topical and have a certain energy to them. Message industry friends and see who could join you. Finally plan your route to the venue so you are not late missing the vital networking part and wear something which you look good in so you feel confident.
You’re feeling nervous… remind yourself everyone else will be also. You see, networking is such a weird energy. Most people feeling nervous, small talk, navigating handshakes with drinks and food. People desperate for leads and jobs, people tired after a busy day at work, others putting their ‘best foot forward’ and you feeling like you’re being ramraided (I will never forget a networking event in London’s St Pancreases Train Station during the GFC when a desperate Accountant in serious need of business started aggressively interrogating me about my finances! I’m not a celebrity… but get me out of here). As you take the lift to the right floor take a moment. Breathe. It’s OK. You’re all in the same boat. As the doors open, smile and walk confidently to the registration desk. Get your badge and say hello. Take a few moments to scan over the invite list. Is there anyone there you want to meet? Make a note of this (at an appropriate time once you have your drink and are a little more relaxed maybe ask the host to introduce you).
Walk over to the drinks table… Look around and gently smile and nod at people who you catch the eye of. As you come to the table take your time. Unless you are the first to arrive, it’s likely there will be a few people at the table or standing in the que. Now, most people grab their drink silently and then turn around to face the big open room nervously scanning people trying to work out who to approach first… But they missed it. Start meeting people at the refreshment table. Start with small talk over what they are drinking, red or white, have they tried it yet. Tea or coffee? How do they have it? I tend to make a quip about being English ‘so only drinking tea’. Have they tried the pork pie? How was there day? Ooooooooooooooo now you’re talking so introduce yourself and then drinks in hand, walk with them into the room. Easy.
One of the most important parts of networking is the handshake so you must always be ready for a handshake. Bag on the left shoulder, no coat. No food plate and drink together (urgh). And the handshake needs to be firm clasping the whole hand (not just the fingers). I’ll do a separate blog on handshakes shortly.
Starting with small talk and as an opener trying to steer away from the ‘what do you’ do question which plummets you into very technical conversation without building adequate rapport. Try:
Now there is a lot of discussion about how you answer the ‘what do you do’ question and the elevator pitch has been well promoted. At networking I want to put forward a new way of speaking which is less ‘salesy’ shared by Michelle Golden at TEDx Citadel Park in her talk the ‘The elevator speech is out of order’. It goes like this:
As they are speaking think about how you can add value to them and connect with them outside of the event consider:
Hopefully by applying these techniques you have had some interesting discussions. But if you are not do exit the conversation and find someone else. Don’t say you ‘must go to the toilet’. Be honest… say something like ‘it’s nice to meet you I’m going to go and meet some other people now, have a great evening’. It’s a networking event. The purpose is to meet other people! Its ok to say you are going to. And remember if you like them ask for their card.
Phew. Go home and sleep then in the morning email them, say ‘how nice it was to meet them’ and invite them for coffee. Add them to your LinkedIn and make sure you meet with them. Keep in touch with them. Maybe meeting them again. Now they are a real contact. Finally, start thinking about the next event and get it booked into the diary and go again. In time you’ll have a new approach… Winning.
If you want me to present networking training to your team, please get in touch.