I have been to countless networking events throughout my career in practice and industry. However since I have been running my own company a strange thing has happened – I have started to enjoy them! This is probably because I can now see the real benefits that networking can provide.
Whist I fully appreciate that it can be daunting to enter a room full of new faces, if you follow some of my tips below it may be possible for you to enjoy them too:
Do your homework
Before booking on any event you should consider why you are attending and what you want to get out of it. Remember that networking is different from selling – the aim of networking is to increase your network. Ultimately this is usually done in the hope of increasing sales, however this is unlikely to happen immediately and may not always come through expected channels.
In order to be appear confident it often helps to have a pitch for your company or services that you can use as part of your introductions. This shouldn’t be more than 1 minute long and it shouldn’t be a hard sell. You should rehearse the pitch in advance with the help of a trusted friend or colleague to ensure that you can deliver it with confidence.
Set yourself goals
If you can get hold of a list of attendees prior to an event then set yourself the challenge of meeting with a specific number of people that you think may be useful to your network. If this isn’t possible then set yourself a number attendees to introduce yourself to. Having a set target will help focus your mind when the easy option is to take the safe route and hover around the buffet, or spend too long with someone that you already know.
If you are nervous about entering a room full of people then an easy way to avoid this is to arrive at the event early. This will make it easier to engage one on one with a small number of attendees before the event really gets going.
Take the initiative
If you see people at the event by themselves then this is often the easiest route to introducing yourself as they are likely to be very receptive. They are also likely to be grateful to you for providing them with an easy networking opportunity.
People will often do business with people that they like. Therefore take time to understand the people that you are networking with. Ask questions and try to find common ground or shared interests. You don’t need to be funny or interesting yourself – you just need to use open questions and be genuine.
Once you have attended the event make sure that you allocate some time to following up on any useful contacts you have made. This can take a number of forms – it could mean writing notes of any facts that you learned about any attendees, or it could mean following up with any actions that you agreed you would do. If you’re into social media then always follow up with a LinkedIn invite, personalising it with a message saying how much you enjoyed meeting them (and mention where you met, especially if you don’t get around to sending it for a few days). Another useful way of following up is to send someone an article on a topic that you think may be of interest to them based on your conversation.
Following these networking tips will hopefully take some of the fear out of networking events. Who knows, like me you may even start to look forward to them!