So, you’ve read all the beginners guides, have a good general understanding of the benefits, how to go about it and have attended some networking events. Congratulations! You’re on your way to becoming an effective networker. But here’s the thing, as with all skills, you should never be complacent and should look to improve through continual learning, better preparation and analysis.
If you have the basics covered, here are my 5 top tips to help you up your game:
Are you aware of who will be attending the networking event? If not, can you request an attendee list from the organiser? If you know who is likely to be at the event, you can be a lot more strategic in your approach by viewing attendee profiles on LinkedIn or by speaking with contacts that may be able to inform you of any shared interests you may have. By doing a little homework before hand you can attempt to find commonalities, which will help make the networking interactions more comfortable. Having pre-prepared topics of conversation that may be of interest to the attendees will also help make you feel more confident.
- Body language
Once you’ve introduced yourself and are in conversation, are you paying attention to your body language and that of the other person? It’s important to actively listen and respond to the other person’s conversation. Show your interest by smiling, maintaining eye contact, nodding and asking questions. Give that person your full attention. Don’t get distracted by what else may be happening in the room or over the persons shoulder. Likewise, be mindful of how the other person is responding to your conversation. Look for visual cues that this person is engaged and interested. Are they in turn, smiling, maintaining eye contact, nodding and asking questions? If not then maybe the topic of conversation isn’t right for this person or maybe it makes them feel uncomfortable. Try changing the conversation to see if you can gain a more positive response. As a rule of thumb, try not to start or engage in a conversation that is based on negativity, gossip, judging, excuses, complaining etc. Nothing good will come of this.
The point of networking events is for like-minded people to meet, recognise, create, or act upon opportunities for mutual development and growth. With that in mind, commit to making connections with attendees; however, don’t turn up at an event armed with a full box of business cards that you intend to empty around the room! Look to have meaningful conversations and make connections of value.
It’s also important not to corner anyone or hold them in conversation for any longer than seems natural and comfortable. Make full use of your time and allow them to do the same but judging when the appropriate point to thank them for their conversation, swap contact details and then moving on to engage with other attendees.
- Follow up
We all know the importance of following up with connections we’ve made following an event. Ensuring that the people we have met have our contacts details is vital; in the spirit of networking, if we are looking to be of benefit to others, they need to be able to contact us as and when needed. However, what is often forgotten about is how to maintain your connections or network. Social media is great for sharing useful tips, resources and seeing what people are up to. It also allows you to see what is important to your connections and even get informed about birthdays, promotions, changes of career etc. Use this information to stay in touch. Recognise others for their achievements, comment on articles shared, give recommendations or endorsements, join shared online groups and wish them happy birthday! By being present and engaged online, we keep our connections alive and make others aware of who we are, what we’re doing and how to contact us.
If we want to perform better and look to continually improve, self-assessment following a networking event and periodically through the year is a great help. Review your successes and adopt a growth-mindset, where there are no failures, just opportunities to improve.
Keep it simple. Ask yourself questions like:
- What could I have done better?
- What would I do differently?
- What has worked well?
- Was I well prepared?
- Have there been any positive responses from new connections?
- Do I need more practice or support?
Remember, networking is all about learning and adding value. Commit to develop your skillset; don’t be afraid to request feedback and most importantly HAVE FUN AND ENJOY IT!