Networking is something that gets talked about a lot in the market. Many HR professionals know they should network to further their careers but always find an excuse to shy away from it and often say they have never really benefited from it.
Others have openly admitted that they either lack confidence in large groups of strangers, have never attended a good networking event or just see if as a pointless task that takes up too much time. At a recent event, someone said to me that they found networking difficult because from an early age, ‘they were taught that they shouldn’t speak to strangers!’.
I’ve attended many networking events over the years, some were really good and some, well, could have been better. I must admit in my early days, networking meant pointless conversations with people that were only interested in selling to me. I often left these events feeling a little unaccomplished, wondering why I had bothered going.
My perception has changed over the years and what I have learnt is that networking is actually a really useful and effective business tool – when used in the right way.
We all know that networking is fundamental to good business but how can you take the pain out of it and make it work more effectively as a business tool for you?
1 ) Re-frame the situation
If you get put off by the word networking, then call it something else! After all, it’s merely a tool to meet new people. Networking has moved on a lot in recent years and is no longer just about attending a formal event, vying for attention, exchanging business cards and selling, selling, selling.
It has evolved to be more about providing the opportunity to meet new and passionate people. So, for me, it can be something as simple as going to see someone in another department instead of sending them an email or meeting someone for a coffee instead of the usual conference call. It doesn’t have to be formal.
Lots of people say that confidence is a major deterrent to networking and can often mean that they are stuck for conversation. If you’re attending an event it’s natural to feel a little nervous, but you can turn nervous energy into a positive. Just remember these key things:
Relax and be yourself; you’re networking because you chose to, and everyone is probably feeling the same, so relax and remember networking is merely a tool for meeting new people.
Be prepared; do your research, take a look at the delegate list and see if there is anyone you’re keen to talk to. One way to start a conversation is through a shared connection, so research what they’re interested in and their experiences/background.
3) Set an objective
Why are you attending the event? What do you want to get out of it?
Admittedly many people only network so that they can sell and, while this may be your end goal, remember no one wants to be sold to at a networking event, this has happened to me numerous times and I was very much put off.
The real benefit of networking lies with the relationships that can be forged as a result. Remember relationships are developed over many months and years, so follow up is key.
Also, always remember the golden rule…give before you receive. Ask yourself how can you help that person and add value before you ask for anything.
Networking events can be full of outgoing, confident people that love to talk, so use it to your advantage and ask open ended questions. This way people will tell you all about what they do, what they are there for and what they are looking to get out of the event. I don’t mean that you only ask one question then listen to someone waffle on forever, it’s more of an introduction to get the conversation flowing.
A good friend of mine once told me that you need a story to engage with people, a great piece of advice that has stuck with me ever since.
Think about why you are there, what’s currently happening in your market and your thoughts on it. But the most important thing is to make eye contact and smile, no one wants to speak to a miserable stranger.
Don’t forget the basics: (it’s not cool to be fashionably late!)
- Be sure you know where you’re going and plan your journey, there’s nothing worse than turning up stressed out because you got lost on the way there.
- Turn your phone off, concentrate on the people around you, that’s the reason you’re there after all.
- Try not to plan anything straight after the event. This way you are free to leave whenever you want and you won’t feel under pressure.
- Finally, make sure you follow up with anybody that you met with. If you had a good conversation with someone suggest you meet for a coffee to keep the relationship fresh.
This is not an exhaustive list, merely tips and tricks that work for me. Over time you’ll find what works for you, but hopefully, you’ll be able to adopt some of my tips to work to your advantage and get you started.
If there is one thing I have learnt from networking, it’s that it’s all about building relationships – give and enrich the experience people have with you and this will go a long way.
To have a chat – or if you are passing through Birmingham and want to meet for a coffee you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can view more about Carl Hinett our Executive search of HR professional’s specialist here.