You did it. You left the sweet embrace of your couch and went to the networking event you know will be good for you and your career. Now what?
Networking events are an amazing opportunity to expand your professional (and social) connections. Whether you’re looking to expand your list of contacts, tell people about you/your product, or you’re just seeking like-minded professionals, networking events can work wonders for your circle. But what happens if you’re more introverted? How do you navigate a room full of new names and faces if you get sweaty palms over the mere idea of talking to group of strangers? We share our top five tips to help you survive, nay, thrive at networking events.
Like anything in life, we tend to perform better when we’ve had a chance to warm up. ‘Starting small’ could encompass a range of strategies. Maybe start off with networking events where you know at least a few of the people going so you can ease into the practice. Or, if you’re going in cold, keep your ear out for conversations that interest you, or that you could *respectfully* contribute to. You can try the ‘fake it ‘til you make it approach’, but this runs its own risk of failing miserably, resulting in the kind of a trauma that prevents you from attending networking events for the foreseeable future.
Small talk – it’s what separates us from the animals
But seriously, it is. Networking events, in a crude nutshell, consist of a room full of people trying to sell themselves, their product or brand. Any sales professional will tell you that going in too hot, or with the ‘hard sell’, too early, will throw people off. Be friendly, be yourself. Chat about some Netflix series that you loved, or tell a funny anecdote about your work. Just remember – every person in that room is experiencing the same thing and has the same goal, so there’s no need to feel awkward!
The point of networking events is to make connections, so you want to be ready to get the most out of the experience. Bring business cards, a pen and, if you’re representing a product or brand, marketing collateral that explains what you’re about. Heading to an industry event? It pays to do a wee bit of research on new products, developments, trends or news. You’ll appear on top of your game, and, if the small talk runs dry, you’ll have a relevant fallback topic.
Represent the best version of yourself at all times
Dress nicely. It’s an unfortunate truth, but how you look will influence how you are received at networking events. You don’t need to go too over the top, but smart casual is the norm. Personal hygiene is also imperative. Obvious, yes, but you’ll undoubtedly meet at least one person at a networking event who could benefit from a trip down the toiletries aisle.
Once you arrive, resist the temptation to neck a few shots for Dutch courage. Your worst fears for how you are perceived at the event are more likely to come true if you’re plastered. If so inclined, two or three drinks are fine. Be sure to take advantage of the canapés on offer. You don’t want your parting impression to be, “Who? Oh, you mean that person? Yeah, they were wasted.”
Too often people think the hard yards are done once they’re back at home, various business cards bundled into their wallet. You did it – you went to the event, you made some really useful new connections, exchanged business cards. Now, follow up! It doesn’t have to be that night, a couple of business days is ok. Don’t leave it too long though. Add them on LinkedIn, send them a quick email, and if you’re really keen, organise for a coffee catch up. Make sure that your effort doesn’t go to waste.
By following these tips, you can conquer your fears and reap the numerous benefits that networking events can bring.