The art of networking
Posted on 15/11/2018
I have to admit, I don’t like networking… well the thought of it anyway. So, I remind myself of all the wonderful people I have met and the stories that have been told and I promise you it’s been worth it! Networking has enabled me to help other people and in return it’s helped me throughout my own career.
I now work for a networking organisation called the Knowledge Transfer Network. I get to meet lots of companies on their journey to take new ideas to market for the benefit of the UK economy. We thrive on introducing ‘not the usual suspects’ and are often described as an ‘innovation dating agency’. How cool is that!
There are a couple of things that I have been guilty of when networking. I hope you can learn from my own faults and start networking to achieve your goals…
Have your business cards with you
I know it’s obvious, but it’s so important to network. I often forget to bring my business cards, so I stash them in various bags and jacket pockets that I am most likely to be wearing at events in the hope that I remember them. When I receive cards from others, I jot down the action on their card to ensure I can follow-up properly. If you are printing your business cards, invest in having them made to a high standard, as this is reflective of your brand values.
It does seem odd carrying around bits of card when we now live in a digital age. I receive loads of business cards and after I make that initial follow-up I don’t use the card again, but nothing seems to be more effective. Some networking events now have ‘fist bumping’ tech that captures the people you have engaged with… but can I remember what were the actions from our discussion?! If you know of a better alternative to the good old-fashioned business card then let me know.
The likelihood is that you’ll meet lots of different people at networking events. When introducing yourself to someone it’s all too easy to be thinking about what you’re going to be saying next that within a few moments of your conversation starting you’ve forgotten their name! Try to make a conscious effort to catch this information and drop their name in when addressing them e.g. “Sarah, tell me about your company”. Using someone’s name in conversation shows that you’re listening and are interested in what they have to say.
It’s worth preparing and practicing an enticing 30 second pitch of what you do. This is your attention grabber and helps you both quickly deduce whether there is common interest to have a follow-up meeting. No one likes a monologue, you are there to network the room and so you want to respect each other’s time and ensure you get the opportunity to speak to others.
If possible, ask questions first. This enables you to see how your offering aligns with what they do, so when you get the opportunity to give your elevator pitch, you can tailor your message to meet their needs. It is also worth trying to mirror the language they have used. This helps build a sense of empathy with the person you are talking to.
“The cling on”
I sometimes find myself talking to someone for way too long. It’s been a great conversation, but it’s starting to dwindle. I need to capture the actions and make my get away, but how?! When you anticipate that the conversation is no longer adding value for both parties, politely summarise your conversation and the actions you have agreed, shake their hand and head off to make yourself another cuppa or alternatively offer to make an introduction to someone else in the room. Kudos to you for building their network, but of course only if it is a good connection!
Open body language
Ensure your body language gives the impression that you are approachable. For example, when talking with someone keep your shoulders open to the room. This enables other networkers the opportunity to join your conversation.
Wear something distinctive
Ideally we should look smart and professional, but in doing so we often all look the same within a room. Is there something you can wear that makes you stand out from the crowd? It allows you to be memorable and easily identifiable within a room. I often default to my floral work dresses, but you may have seen some of my colleagues go as far as dying their hair in vibrant colours.
It’s Friday and I still have business cards from connections made at an event on Tuesday. But with each day that passes, those connections become colder and the likelihood of an effective outcome diminishes. Even if it is just an email saying “nice to meet you”, it’s worth sending that holding email within a couple of days with what actions you propose to do later.
You have practiced your elevator pitch; your business cards are at the ready; now who do you want to meet at the event? Don’t rely on serendipity. If you can get hold of an attendee list beforehand, then great! It gives you the opportunity to see if there is anyone of interest you particularly want to talk to. Ask the organisers when you arrive to help facilitate that introduction.