Networking – does the word fill you with dread, irritation or joy? We all have to do it but the key question is: are you getting the outcome you want from it?
In this article, I give you some guidance to progress from whatever point you are at now with your networking to help you move it up a level. We’ll work through what networking is and key tips for networking at events by stage.
What is networking?
One definition is ‘meeting people to build mutually beneficial relationships’. There are some key elements to remember:
Whilst you need to have networking goals, if you go to events solely focusing on what you want to get out of it, you will come across negatively. You need to be looking out for how you can help others. That might be with connections, but could equally be with information.
Networking at events is a numbers game. It’s natural that people want to get to know you better and trust you before they give you business directly or refer you to a trusted contact of theirs. Meeting people once is just the start of any potential relationship.
Attending an event is an opportunity to meet new people but also to reconnect. Don’t underestimate the importance of seeing people again you already know. It strengthens the relationship and increases what we know about one another.
It’s about more than the people in the room or on the computer screen – it’s who they know too.
There are more reasons to go than to meet potential clients:
Become known as a sector expert – raise your profile.
Learn new information.
Get to know current clients better in a different setting.
Build your network for when you want to change organisation.
Network within your organisation to build your exposure (see my article on why that matters).
Networking at events – key tips for each stage
To get the most from networking, you need to prepare for it. Take the time to work through each stage and think about the questions below. Even better, write your thoughts down. This will ensure you get the most from networking.
You need a strategy
Who do you want to meet? Potential clients are an obvious one, but it could also be referrers, partners or suppliers.
Where will these people be and can you be there too?
How many evens a week/month do you want to attend?
Do you want to attend online, in person or a mix?
What type of events suit you? Consider the format, time of day, location.
Once you have thought about these, do your research and find suitable networking opportunities. Then make a concrete plan of what you will attend, register if need be and put them in your diary.
Top tip: It’s better to commit to fewer and attend them than loads and go to none!
You need to know how to introduce yourself
There may be an opportunity to give a 60 second introduction about yourself and your company – how will you maximise engagement in what you say?
If there isn’t a formal, ‘introduce yourself’ session, then you will at some point have to answer the question “And what do you do?”
Avoid answering with a job title ; it’s dull and doesn’t help to provoke further interesting questions. The statement, “I’m a lawyer” only provokes the question “What sort of lawyer?” or “Where?”
How can you make it more interesting?
An example for a lawyer:
"I help clients who are want to ensure their business finances are legal and sound – I’m a financial lawyer specialising in corporate tax law."
Focus on the type of people or organisations you work with and their problems that you help solve.
Decide how you will present yourself at an event
Once you’re going to a specific event, it’s best to spend a few minutes beforehand considering:
What the appropriate dress code is– this will depend upon who is attending, where it’s being held and even the time of day. If you misjudge this, not only will you stand out for the wrong reasons but you may also feel awkward which won’t help you come across confidently and positively. You may also want to think about what you could wear and consider other ways to be positively memorable; you can read more on that.
What you want to get out of the event e.g. speak to 3 people, have 2 people to have a follow-up meeting with.
If an attendee list is provided, see who you already know and if appropriate send them a message to say you’re looking forward to seeing them. Also look for any people you’d like to get the opportunity to speak to and research them in advance (be careful how you use this information as it can come across as creepy and intrusive done incorrectly).
When you’re networking at in person events, judging who to start speaking to/which group to join is really key. If you misjudge this, it can affect your confidence. Look for open body language and groups you can easily fit into. Arriving early at an event can be helpful as there will be fewer already formed groups and the host may be able to introduce you to people.
In terms of conversation, always avoid talking about work topics first; remember to be human and discuss points of commonality. If this part of the conversation is natural and free flowing, it will make things a lot easier.
At online events, it can be difficult to have one-to-one conversations and you are likely to need to arrange these as part of following-up, with those where it is relevant. This can be challenging though as it can come across salesy so position these invitations carefully.
When it does come to work conversation, try to get others to speak first – this shows interest and helps you to understand what might be most relevant and interesting for you to tell them about your work when the time comes. When it does come to this point, remember what you prepared and consider what mini case studies would be helpful to talk about to bring your work to life. What we actually do is often far less obvious to others!
Moving on is key. Everyone is there to talk to more than one person, this needs to be done carefully though. You don’t want to undermine any relationship you have started to build. Read more on avoiding ‘dumping’ someone. Before moving on, if you can, confirm what is to happen next i.e. a meeting, call or even just connecting on LinkedIn – get their card if you are meeting them in person!
After an event
Fundamentally, if you do nothing after an event, it was a waste of time going. If you don’t keep your promises at this stage, you will undo the good work you did at the event.
Within a day, make sure you carry out any actions you promised and as a minimum, connect with everyone you spoke to on LinkedIn. Make any diary notes to follow-up with people in the coming weeks or months.
Finally, look at the goals you set yourself and consider what you might do differently (or not!) at the next event.
Networking is one of the key skills for career success that often gets overlooked. To receive my short email series and Booklet packed with tips and advice on the Nine Neglected Skills needed for career success simply complete the form below:
“Joanna managed to explain, in a very clear and concise way, the key skills to getting the most out of networking.
She offered practical tips for the various stages of networking: before, during and after attending a networking event.
She also illustrated the concepts well by giving amusing real life experiences.
The group were keen to try out these tips and Joanna stayed around to help us apply these to the after-event networking drinks.”