Networking: Back to basics

Don’t underestimate the power of your network.

Take a minute to think about the number of relationships you’ve nurtured at work and in your personal life to date. Family, friends, peers, colleagues and mentors. What impact has this had on your life more generally, and on your career? Now, if you took away all of these people what is left? For me the answer is not much as the people I surround myself with play such an important role in my life. The power and support that your network gives you on a daily basis is reason alone to keep building on this. Meeting interesting people who can offer a fresh perspective provides us with new ideas, challenges and meaning.

In the Autumn I ran a session for sales and marketing executives titled the art of networking, taking it back to basics. People often feel insecure or out of their comfort zone when put in a room full of strangers and quite frankly find the situation awkward. I know I did before I started attending 2 events per week. I think practice is the key here. You have to put yourself into the situation time and time again for it to become easier. After doing so, you’ll soon find that you no longer have to over engineer, it comes naturally. On Wednesday evening I was at an event and met a number of people with interesting but differing experiences and this reminded me of how important networking is to help you learn and grow in your career. I walked away from this session having managed to organise a lunch and two coffee dates with 3 new connections. To me there’s nothing more valuable than that.

For those of you who find that networking doesn’t come naturally to you, I’ve provided some of my top tips below, to help. These worked for me, so hopefully they’ll work for you too.

Top tips on how to network

Understanding who is going to be in the room 

If you can, it’s always helpful to do some research as to who might be in the room before attending a networking event. Who are the speakers, who’s likely to attend? Knowing this will give you a bit of background information to help start the conversation and shows you’ve done your research. If you can’t find out who is likely to attend or you don’t have time, I would just be conscious of the content of the event and therefore who is likely to be there. What questions could you have up your sleeve?

Elevator pitch

Before entering into conversation with someone it’s a good idea to have an elevator pitch ready in your back pocket. The 3 things that you’re typically asked first are your name, where you work and what you do. Think of something punchy and memorable that sums these three things up and you’ll be ready to go.

How to strike up a conversation with an individual or enter into a group

Sometimes it can feel awkward walking up to a stranger and introducing yourself but this is expected of you at a networking event. Remember, everyone is in the same boat. Looking for someone stood by themselves is often the easiest approach or you could join a group of 3 – this means that one person is likely to break off and chat to you. If you’re totally lost then I find that heading for the refreshments is a good idea – always the ice breaker! I’ve included a few suggestions of opening lines that you could try out but put simply start by introducing yourself (this is where that elevator pitch comes in handy).

Hi, do you mind if I join you?
Hello, it’s great to meet you. My name is Jess Houston and I work for… 

How do you engage in small talk

After you’ve moved past introductions the conversation tends to move towards small talk. This will help you to get comfortable talking to your new contact before you move the conversation on to something more business related. I’ve listed a couple of questions off the top of my head but you could ask anything about the event or their day. One thing I would say, avoid speaking about the weather (unless it’s topical for some reason).

How was your journey here?
Have you been to an event like this before?
What interested you in attending today?
How did you find the presentation (if appropriate)?

Do you work locally?

How to move to business conversation

Small talk can only go so far. You might find that naturally you move onto a topic of conversation that’s more centered around business or you could end up talking about something completely different – either is fine. One tip I would give you is to find a commonality with the person you’re talking to as this will give you a stronger connection and should then help the conversation flow a little better. Depending on your reason for being at the event, you might want to move the conversation into a business capacity. To do this you could try a couple of the examples below.

What’s taking up your time right now?
How do the issues (addressed at the event) impact on your business?
What’s your view on … (discuss important matters in the news)?

How to leave a conversation and move on to speak to someone else

The last point I want to make is that you’re not expected to speak to the same person for the whole evening. The point of networking is to move around the room so don’t feel bad about finishing a conversation and leaving it there. The chances are they’re probably thinking the same thing. You could test out the below or come up with your own.

I’m just going to get another drink, if you’ll excuse me.
I’ve just seen someone I need to catch, please excuse me.
It’s been great talking with you, do you have a business card?

Following up with contacts afterwards

This is really important. You’ve now met some interesting people but if you don’t follow-up with everyone then you might as well have stayed at home. I can’t emphasise how important this stage is. Nurturing this relationship is what might lead you to an interesting conversation, opportunity or discovery later on.

You might find that a lot of people don’t carry business cards anymore, guilty. If you do have your own I would encourage you to have a few ready in case you need them. Add your new contacts on LinkedIn with a personalised note to say that you enjoyed meeting them at [insert event] and you’d like to connect. I would encourage you to do this relatively soon after the event so that you keep that connection live (and they don’t forget who you are)! Another thing I look out for is a copy of the attendee list, especially if I don’t take business cards. If you’ve got a relatively good memory then you can scan the list after the event and find your new contacts that way.

A few points to leave you on…

There’s a really good Ted Talk that I would encourage you to watch by a guy named Julian Treasure – ‘How to speak so that people want to listen’. He’s got some really interesting advice that should help you with your presence when networking. Check it out for further tips!

Now you’re equipped with the knowledge and the tools, it’s time to put yourself out there and practice. Good luck!