You are in a room full of people at a company event, nibbling on the juiciest spring rolls you’ve ever had. But also wondering if the 22 minutes, 47 seconds you’ve spent at the venue justifies the money you paid for new shoes. You should be networking, you remind yourself. And for a few seconds, you try, willing your body to move out of the spot you’ve been planted, wearing your most rehearsed smile and determined to blend in.
Except that everyone seems to already be talking and laughing with people they know, and their conversation seems to go on fine without you. At this point, you remember the ‘soundbite’ from your supervisor the day before: Mix up, meet people, exchange cards. She says networking will make you. Being strategic about who you meet and the way you position yourself among stakeholders will affect your career progression.
So you arrived at the venue determined to give networking a shot. You have your cards and your 150-word corporate profile perfectly rehearsed. The only problem is that no one really prompted you on when to start. Do you dive in in the middle of people’s conversation? Do you start networking as soon as you get into the room? How do these things really work?
Well, we have a few suggestions.
Don’t try to sell
People get nervous at the idea of networking and I think it’s because somewhere at the back of our minds, we see networking as a move, some corporate or business strategy to get ahead or close a deal. Naturally, this perception will lead to all sorts of anxieties.
“Am I saying the right thing?”
“Is this person a prospective client?”
“Am I wasting my time” and worst of all, “will I even be remembered”?
With these thoughts going through your mind, every event will feel like work. And something as social and interactive as meeting new people will easily become a chore.
What I Recommend
Instead, focus on making new connections. Humans can be very insightful if you listen to them. So maybe you don’t get a new business lead, but you could learn something about a culture.
As for the issue of where to start, how about with a familiar face? Saying hello to a colleague you know gives you the channel to introduce yourself to people they are speaking with. If they are cordial, they will probably introduce you to the group, and if not, you can introduce yourself.
More Networking Secrets
Compliments! They are good conversation starters but when giving them, you should be sincere. Then, keep an eye open for people who are trying to network with you. Ask follow up questions to passing comments they make about politics or their job. Be genuinely interested. Don’t make jokes if you aren’t known to be funny.
Your supervisor is right. Mix up. Don’t hide behind one successful conversation. Move around the room. Introduce yourself to at least three people. Take networking further by becoming a connector and introducing two people you’ve met to each other. That way you increase the chances of both of them remembering you.
Follow up. Don’t just collect cards. Send an email saying it was nice to meet you, and maybe add something from the conversation you had. E.g. if you talked about a new finding, add a link to an article about it. Or read up about what that person does and say something you found fascinating about their work in the follow-up email.
We meet a lot of people at events and only few will remain top of mind, so ensure you are one of the few by following up post-event noise.
Do you have any networking secrets? Share with us.