No matter how much confidence you have it’s hard not to become a wallflower or snack table lurker at professional events – especially when you don’t know anyone.
Unfortunately, new opportunities aren’t going to fall in your lap without a little hard work and some effective networking techniques. “New opportunities often come through what sociologists term our ‘weak tie network’”, explains Huon Latham of Happiness Concierge
, a training company that specialises in work/life balance. “People in our second network, acquaintances we see less often, have access to opportunities we might not ordinarily hear about through our close friends and family.”
We often avoid networking situations because they can feel forced and inauthentic. “The most common piece of feedback we hear at Happiness Concierge is that networking feels ‘fake’”, says Huon. “The truth is, great networking is really about building great relationships.” It’s a good idea to look at the situation holistically. Networking skills can be applied to many elements of our life, says Huon. “Interpersonal relationships are critical for our mental health, sense of belonging and ultimately create foundations of trust.”
Networking is a vital skill for all marketers to have, so we’ve worked with Huon and Happiness Concierge to identify a few major dos and some don’ts to get you through the night.
And if all else fails, Huon suggests meeting at the cheese board to bond over a mutual awkwardness and a love of free canapés. “Call it out for what it is, and ask one another, ‘am I the only person who doesn’t love networking events?’ Connecting over a shared adversity, challenge, or food makes for an instant icebreaker.”
The definitely dos
Enter with warmth
“In every social interaction, our body language communicates signals about how we are feeling, so we start to reflect the energy and respond to the emotions of people around us,” says Huon. Make a point of assessing your body language and switching on your warmth before walking into an event. Whether this is with a smile, standing tall with your shoulders back or putting your hand out confidently when introducing yourself.
Have a few easy questions locked and loaded for every event to stop yourself from sharing a nervous flow of information about your entire life and future goals. Keep the balance between self-talk and questions fairly balanced. Yes, you’re there to market yourself but the best way to stick in someone’s memory is by showing an interest in them and their work. “It sounds simple,” says Huon, “yet so many of us worry about being ‘interesting’ that we completely forget to ask other people anything.” It pays to do a little pre-event thinking about the types of questions that might get conversation flowing.
Follow up soon after the event
If you promised someone an email or mentioned a coffee catch up the time to strike is when the iron is hot (preferably no more than a week after the event). “Following up is foundational in building trust in new relationships,” says Huon. “It also sends a signal about the type of person you might be like to work with.” And surprisingly, very few people take the time to follow up after a meeting, so it puts you in with a good chance.
The absolutely do nots
Attend everything and anything
Attending every networking event in the hopes it might push you in a good direction could work against you. Take some time to do your research before getting dressed up for the night. Who could you potentially meet at this event and how will attending assist your future goals? If the event or the people attending aren’t of particular interest or don’t contribute to your ultimate goals, then it might be worth popping on your pyjamas and staying in for the night.
Stay in a conversation that’s run its course
At the Happiness Concierge the process for making a graceful exit out of conversations you feel you can’t leave is simple: “Thank the person for their time,” says Huon. “Share something new they’ve taught you during the conversation to validate their knowledge or input. Then exit with warmth. Phrases such as ‘I’ve just spotted someone I have an urgent question for’ or ‘my drink is in need of a top-up’ are perfectly appropriate.”
Feel that you need to stay on the topic of work
If the desired result of networking is to make lasting connections, then staying on the topic of work will likely keep you in acquaintance (or even forgettable person) territory.
“An easy hack for turning network acquaintances into positive relationships is to converse about topics outside of work,” suggests Huon. “Bringing your authentic, ‘social’ self to your next networking event and striking up conversations about holidays or sporting events can be a great way to find commonalities and build lasting bonds.”
You could also find you have common friends or discover that person could connect you with someone who will help you achieve some future goals.
Georgia Lejeune, managing editor
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