Networking – Tips to Make it Easier in 2019
You arrive at an industry event but don't know anybody. You look around and everybody seems to be engrossed in stimulating conversations. You start to panic, you feel like the loneliest person in the room and just want to run away!
I'm sure that this is a scenario many of us have encountered at some point in our professional lives, but is there a way of making networking easier in 2019?
Firstly, don't be too hard on yourself. There are a few lucky people who seem to be able to work a room and network effortlessly, but for the majority it does not come naturally. The good news is that there are some simple tips that should help to improve your success.
Prior to the event
This may seem trivial but approach the event with a positive mindset and don't put unnecessary pressure on yourself to find the next big client. Just think of it as an opportunity to meet new people, have interesting conversations and learn from those new connections. I have found this reframing approach has helped me relax and project a calmer and more confident demeanour.
If you are aware of the event's participant list, it is worth doing some background research on LinkedIn if there are specific people you wish to meet.
Approaching new people
If you do arrive at an event and don't know anyone, have a quick wander round and see if anyone else is on their own. Then simply go up and introduce yourself, they will feel grateful that someone has rescued them! In the scenario that everybody is engaged in conversation, just see if there are any interesting group discussions going on. If you stand on the edge of a group, generally a pleasant crowd will try to draw you into the discussion.
Never underestimate the value of small talk. On that subject, I recommend that you read this article by Dorie Clark, author, marketing strategist and Duke University professor, where she suggests having some open questions prepared to use. Some that I have used in the past include:
- What do you get up to in your spare time?
- Do you have any hobbies/ interests which you enjoy?
- Have you been to any great restaurants/ cultural events recently?
It's simply a way of initiating conversation. I've found that people tend to open up when talking about outside interests. Whereas they may feel you're pitching them something if you dive straight into a work-related topic.
Another Dorie Clark article that I found insightful is How to get someone to like you immediately. In it she mentions that a key part of networking is finding connections or commonalities as described by the eminent psychologist Robert Cialdini. It might be as simple as a shared interest in tennis, liking the same cuisine or live in a similar part of town. By finding this link, you feel a sense of comfort and a connection is built.
At this point, try to steer the conversation on to work related topics and have some more prepared questions to facilitate the conversation. The key is to let the other person speak, really listen and see if there are any areas, where you might be able to assist them.
After the event, follow up in a timely manner. Ideally, there might be a specific area in which to work together or provide advice but if not, simply emailing them to say you enjoyed meeting and inviting them to connect on LinkedIn is just as helpful.
The crucial aspect is maintaining regular communication to strengthen the relationship, using a spreadsheet may assist to monitor this process. Furthermore, the emphasis should be on seeing how you might help your new contact rather than asking for favours too quickly. Are there are any useful articles you might be able to email them, or do you have a contact you might be able to introduce? Being helpful will make you the type of person others will naturally want to help.
Think in the medium to long term as initially a contact may not appear to create any immediate benefits, but the larger your network, the more chance that either that person or someone they know might be able to help you.
There is no silver bullet to becoming a great networker, but it is possible to improve your networking over time by listening, forming strong relationships, giving before taking and staying in touch. Ultimately, it is about being pleasant, showing genuine curiosity and enjoying the process, smart people quickly sense if you are not authentic. For more networking advice, a book that I have found very useful is Dorie Clark's Stand Out Networking, which has many more great ideas on building connections and valuable relationships.