Networking, networking, networking. How many times have you been told that business success depends on successful networking? For some people, networking comes naturally, but for the rest of us it takes effort and a whole lot of preparation and positive self-talk to be able to successfully work a room.
Organised networking events are becoming more commonplace these days, especially through websites like Meetup and LinkedIn. Arguably, though, any social event that includes other people (hence the word ‘social’) is a networking opportunity. After all, you never know where your next contact will come from.
It’s important to remember that you can’t change your personality. If you’re shy and reluctant to attend social or networking events, that will probably always be the case. However, there are some steps you can take to make the event easier on you and a more successful one, too.
Assess and Buddy Up
Networking opportunities are everywhere, and since we’re assuming that you don’t want to attend a networking event every night of the week, it’s important to assess each event before you agree to attend. Be honest with yourself about the kinds of events and venues that you’re most comfortable attending, and don’t stray from your preferences. If you don’t like to have to shout to be heard, avoid events held at bars and clubs. If eating around other people makes you nervous, steer clear of events centered around a meal.
It’s also important to assess the types of people who will likely be attending the event. There’s no point taking the time and mental energy to work a room that is full of people that you are not interested in connecting with.
If possible, find a networking buddy – someone to arrive and leave with, and someone that you can spend time with when you’re not talking to a new acquaintance. Just having a go-to person to revert back to if you’re feeling uncomfortable will make all the difference to your confidence levels.
Know What You’re Going to Say
Conversations can move in mysterious ways, and you never know what you will end up discussing with a new acquaintance. However, prior preparation will help you to get through those awkward first few minutes.
Firstly, perfect your elevator pitch well in advance. Know how you are going to introduce yourself in ten seconds or less, because it’s almost guaranteed that you will need to do this several times at any networking event. If you struggle for words in your first sentence, you’re not starting out strong. Give yourself every opportunity to succeed.
Embrace the fact that you’re going to need to engage in small talk. It would be odd to launch straight into a deep and meaningful conversation or an in-depth business proposal with a complete stranger, so almost all new conversations must begin with some kind of small talk. Stay up-to-date with current news topics and have a few go-to questions ready to go. Good questions to add to your repertoire can include:
- What’s your connection to this event?
- What kind of things do you like to do when you’re not at work or at events like this?
- How did you come to be in your line of work?
- Have you traveled anywhere recently?
- Have you always lived in [city name]?
It’s easy to think that everyone at a networking event is having fun, except you. The truth is, you were to elicit honest answers from other people you will probably find that the majority of them would prefer to be anywhere else. The secret is preparing in advance to give off the air of confidence.