With any event, going it alone is daunting. But a skill to set you apart and help you excel in your career will be your ability to network with your industry and clients.
Surrounded by seasoned professionals, it can be an intimidating experience to strike up a conversation and find common ground with a stranger. The key, as simple as it sounds, is to be genuine.
With each event you attend, you’ll have an expectation of what you are there to achieve – is it to meet someone in particular, sound out an organisation or is it to make new connections in the industry? Either way, networking is about relationships. Lucky for you, we’ve covered the dos and don’ts of networking so you can enter any event with your head held high and beaming with confidence.
Starting with the Basics
- Dress code: Dependent on where the event is being hosted and the time, the key is to look professional. Any doubts, don’t be afraid to clarify with the meeting organiser. At the end of the day, you’d rather be prepared than being over-dressed with a plunging neckline.
- Eye contact: there’s nothing worse than talking or listening to someone who is looking over your shoulder or at their phone – it sends out a strong signal that says ‘I am really not interested right now’. Maintaining eye contact shows a real confidence in yourself and a genuine interest in the person and what they’re talking about.
- Alcohol: As a golden rule – don’t over-do it with the alcohol. Although it may be free and tempting to soothe the nerves, there is nothing worse than being remembered as THAT girl.
- Check out our blog piece ‘What not to do at networking events’ for even more tips on keeping it cool at events.
Keeping Nerves at Bay
You may be talking to a senior staff member, a CEO or even your role model and feel completely overwhelmed. At the end of the day, people in any position no matter how senior appreciate genuine conversation, so don’t put that added pressure on yourself that you only have this one conversation to make your name in the industry or to make a sale. That is not what networking events are for. Rather, it’s a long term process that will require multiple touch points – and that first starts with building the relationship. Think of those top-dogs as you would any other respected colleague and let your personality shine through.
Practice Makes Perfect
Whether at a gym or cooking class, what better way to increase your confidence and skillset by practicing in an environment that you are very much at home in. You’ll start to find conversation starters that work for you, picking up on cues to explore and ask questions about.
Also, what groups do you currently belong to? Many professional bodies have a division for emerging professionals who have just started out in the industry. Get used to striking up conversations and establishing how to find common ground with likeminded people at a similar stage of their career.
Who to Talk to?
Whether you’re standing in line to grab a coffee, or have sat down next a stranger at a seminar, these scenarios can be used to strike up a conversation. To prepare, keep a few open-ended questions up your sleeve. You may be familiar with the company they work for (keep an eye out for name-tags), mention a key message you just heard in a presentation, ask what brings them to this event or for their thoughts on the speaker. Have they checked out the displays or how does this event compare to last years?
The key is to look approachable and to seek out people who also look approachable. No-go signs could be someone who is mid-conversation (nothing worse than interrupting someone!), checking their phone, yawning or if they have their arms crossed in a defensive manner.
You’ll also find that talking with the host of an event is a great way to connect in with others. Once you’ve introduced yourself and explained what brings you to the event, use this as cue to ask the host if there are guests in a similar position they suggest you connect in with – after all, they most likely put the invite list together!
You’ve Been to the Event, Now What?
Whether you exchange business cards or add your new contact on LinkedIn, the key is to remain proactive. It could be as simple as emailing that article link you promised to send, or dropping a line to say how great it was to meet. Depending on what you want out of the connection, you could even leave the offer on the table to catch up for coffee to continue on the conversation.
It’s a real skill to listen to what someone has been saying at an event as you can reference this in follow up conversations – it also shows you were really listening if you’re able to drop in lines like “How has that project been progressing?” and “How did you get on with your marathon?”.
Mastering networking takes time. But the sooner you start, the sooner you will develop your confidence. Take note of how your colleagues work the room at events, and see what conversation starter’s work for them.
And what better way to flex your networking muscles than at our next Workher event. With the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party Jacinda Arden, Founder of Eat My Lunch Lisa King, reporter Gracie Taylor, plus Madeleine Harman and Jessica Grubiša of HarmanGrubiša, joining the panel as guest speakers, you’re guaranteed to be in the company of motivated go-getters very much in the same boat as you. Check out the EventFinda page for more details – but be sure to get your tickets quick!
So before you head out to your next event, make sure you’ve done your research, have a supply of business cards on hand and your LinkedIn profile’s up-to-date. Oh and the best tool of them all? Remember to smile.