The word ‘networking’ can take on many guises. I’m going to focus on a few simple tips when networking at social work related events. I hope you find it useful.
There are many people out there who are afraid of the word ‘networking’. I’m personally a fan. Think of networking as a chance to socialise, be yourself and elevate your professional personal brand. It can be fun to get away from the office, meet new people and expand your network. Just remember that there will be an equal amount of people who are as uncomfortable as you in the room, so try to relax, be yourself and be friendly.
So you arrive, put on your name badge, grab a drink, and scout the room to see if you know anyone. What next? Finding someone to talk to. OK, assume for now that you know no one in the room. Timing is everything, and the hardest part often is approaching a group or someone on your own. My tip, and perhaps stating the obvious, is walk up, smile and ask if you could join them. After introducing yourself and, perhaps, telling them who you work for. Ask them what they do, and then ask other questions. Get to know them, be interested. Try to avoid questions that can be answered with a yes and no. Use words like tell, what, how, and describe. For example, I like to say, tell me how you got to be a scuba instructor. Or, what is it that you love about training ferrets? People like to talk about themselves, and have someone interested in them. It is surprising how much you will learn by listening. Hopefully, the conversations flow. Remember, networking is all about conversation.
When someone asks what you do, it is important to be clear on this (it should hopefully not be too difficult). Do you have an elevator speech in mind? A what? An elevator speech is a 30 second snapshot of what you do, and who you work for. The idea being you should be able to describe what you do whilst riding in an elevator (Check out this blog for more on composing an Elevator Pitch). Anyhow, once you have outlined who you are, return the conversation back to them.
As I noted earlier, at most events, we are given a name badge, which is usually pinned to your chest. This can be a little awkward, especially when trying to work out who is who. People do have a habit of slowly walking by and staring at your chest, try not to do this is. If you don’t know the person or group, who cares who they are. Again, wander up and say hello, introduce yourself and ask if are enjoying the event.
Absolutely avoid hanging out with your colleagues for the evening. I have often been guilty of this, it’s easy, and comfortable. You can socialise at work. However, if a colleague of yours is talking to a group of people, then this is obviously an easy introduction and entry opportunity. Make the most of it.
Now, chance has it, that you wander up to a small group of approachable looking people, politely make your entrance and then quickly work out that they all work for a competitor. Oh no, now what. Well, I see this as a chance to dig into what they are working on etc. Think of it as an opportunity to scout the opposition. Once you have got a bit of information, or not, excuse yourself.
So what is the etiquette with business cards? Well there is really no hard and fast rule – apart from don’t forget them! Even though in one of my previous blogs, I predicted the demise of business cards. You should always be prepared, once again, make sure you have them with you. Try not to pull them out of your trouser or suit pockets, scuffed and marked. Never a good look. Buy yourself a card holder. Also, remember to place the cards you receive at the back of your card holder. What if you don’t bring your cards (or even better, run out). If you feel it necessary, politely ask for their card, note that you have run out. Then make sure the next day, you follow up with an email. I recommend also attaching your vCard to make it easier for them to save your details. If you are on LinkedIn, and you should be, ask the person if they are. The next day you should follow up. Make sure you prepare a polite message, something along the lines of ‘Hi. It was good to meet you at the property council event. It would be great to link in and connect our networks. I look forward to catching up again.’ Simple. I often book 15 minutes in my diary to remind myself to follow up after events.
Now there are many sites and blogs dedicated to further refining your ‘networking the room’ skills. I tend to practice one or two at a time, gradually working out what does work for me without making it all overly rehearsed. The key is to try relax and enjoy yourself.
Happy networking, and good luck.
Thanks for reading.
A version of this post was posted last year in the excellent Breakfast Brief by Max & Buddy Consulting. Click here and make sure you subscribe for great advice and tips.