You’ll know a good networker when you see one. They can glide from conversations to conversation with virtual strangers, covering all the right topics, asking the right questions and leaving on a laugh. Not everyone was born with this gene, so if you find yourself in the corner at an event awkwardly counting the minutes before you can leave, don’t feel bad.
Here are a few Do’s and Don’ts for networking opportunities that will hopefully ease you out of the corner and into a conversation or two.
Evaluate your priorities (making connections, finding a new job, getting to know clients, etc) and your resources (time, money, effort) to pick the right events. When you first start networking this might be guess work and you'll have to attend a wide variety of events to find out what suits your needs. For others, it might not be a case of choosing an event if your boss has asked you to attend!
Be in the right headspace and only attend an event if you are going to make the effort. Assess your role in the event beforehand and make a game plan. Whether it's to talk to ten people or get two useful connections, putting some thought and numbers to the event will help you make the most of it.
Asking questions without coming across as outright nosy can be tricky. Let the person know that they’ve really piqued your interest and you’d love to know more. Use the opportunity to really educate yourself on their area of expertise. It’s a free download of information, all you have to do is listen!
If you touched on something during your exchange - a contact, a link, an article - that you said you’d share, get their details and follow up the next day. It’s an easy way to pick up a conversation outside the sterile networking environment and keeps your communication opportunity open with your new contact.
Knowing who’s who certainly helps but if you think a coworker or a connection could benefit from meeting someone at the event then make the introduction there or after. People will look to do the same for you in return. It’s great to find yourself as the common point in a newly established synergy when the right people get together.
Not everyone’s on their A-game 24/7 but you know the redeeming attributes of your colleagues and coworkers and highlighting these not only helps them out but others who may not have seen the same strengths yet. Shouting someone’s praises (where praise is due) will only come back with positivity.
Professional environments don’t always call for personal details. Networking isn’t about finding your new best friend, it’s about garnering insight on your workplace or your industry. Understanding different roles and the impact they make. Learning about people in context to the greater business and how it could affect you and your position. Is the person you’re talking to holding the key to your next big opportunity? They don’t need to know that you had root canal last Thursday but they do need to know what motivates you, what your values are, what project you’re impacting and what you hope to do next.
The issue with many networking events is that everyone is trying to sell either themselves or their company or their products. This effectively results in corporate speed dating and you’ll stand around in absolute fear for the tenth person of the night approaching you to tell you why their product is the best out there. Be yourself, identify a topic in the early minutes of a conversation that may be of broader interest and try to focus on that. Even if you do see a business opportunity let that wait. Follow up after the event and develop the relationship prior to approaching pending opportunities. It is proven that people prefer doing business with people they know or they trust. This is something worth nurturing first and foremost.
Ideas, intel, stories, that don’t belong to you should be left out of your networking chitchat. Sticking to what you know and can attest to avoids the slippery slope to what could be construed as gossip.
Often easier said than done, but shyness doesn’t really have a place at a networking function. No one is asking you to stand on stage for a rendition of Rocket Man but some simple conversation starters might be expected. “What’s your role at the company exactly?” Followed by, “How long have you done that for?” And then maybe, “Has the role changed much since you started?”
Every conversation has a beginning, a middle and an end. Knowing the latter is important. Don’t wait for the pauses between questions to become long enough to induce a yawn. Simply say how pleased you were to have met them, ask if you could have their contact details (if you are so inclined) and that you need to excuse yourself to say hello to someone else.
There will inevitably be clients or coworkers with whom you don’t always get along. Don’t let workplace differences impact the professional relationship. You might need access to their network one day and mending connections when you need something is always a little awkward. Keep it professional and find common ground by which to keep things amicable.
If you have had a negative experiences with a client or coworker try and sidestep those conversations at a networking event. Being slanderous only makes you look unnecessarily mean. Networking is not the opportunity to vent on misdemeanors passed. Try to keep things positively geared and gossip free.
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