Does the thought of networking in a room full of other business professionals fill you with dread? Is it an effort to go to networking events or do you try to avoid them completely? You’re not alone.
We are told constantly that we need to network and build strong business connections. It may not be many people’s cup of tea, but networking is an important part of any B2B business and is essential when building your professional profile or trying to find a job.
Before the event
If you don’t like networking, it is important that you prepare yourself prior to the day of the networking event.
- Have a goal in mind: What is the main reason you’re attending this event? What is the ideal outcome? Setting a goal will give you a purpose for attending and will help you stay focused so you can avoid looking like you’re wandering around aimlessly. If you’re really shy you might want to set a goal of meeting three to five people. That means every time you step out of your comfort zone and force yourself to make an introduction to someone new, you boost your confidence by mentally checking off a goal.
- Dress for success: Research the event – not all networking events require the same dress standards. But no matter the dress code, remember that dressing to impress is key. Creating a great first impression with prospective clients/business partners/colleagues/employers begins with your appearance. The outfit you choose should portray how you ideally want to be seen. If you want to appear interesting and professional, you need to dress the part.
- Prepare your elevator pitch: In today’s business world, personal branding is a huge deal. Find your unique selling point and build a short, interesting pitch for when people ask who you are and what you do. Ideally, it should catch someone’s attention within 30 seconds and make them want to learn more.
Day of event
The day of the event is when your nerves are most likely to be at their worst. But you’ll need to push through any feelings of dread. There are a couple of things you can do to feel better on the day:
- Arrive early: It is no different to arriving to a first job early. Arriving 10-15 minutes prior to the commencement of the event screams professionalism. It allows you to scope out the venue to see what is on offer. It also gives you some time to get comfortable in the space and take a deep breath before the room fills up.
- Work the room: Walk around. Standing in one spot for the duration of the event limits the conversations and relationships you could make. Try not to stick yourself in a corner – that defeats the purpose of “networking”. If jumping into a conversation with the more talkative people is a bit too much for you, try seeking out the people who are standing by themselves. Remember: everyone is a little nervous at networking events!
- Sell yourself: It can be intimidating approaching somebody of importance, but even just introducing yourself can make a world of difference. Stand up straight, give a firm but brief handshake and maintain eye contact. Listen for their name – there is nothing worse than forgetting that within the first few minutes of interaction. Once you’ve gained their attention, you can share your 30-second pitch – own it!
- Exchange contact details: Don’t be afraid to ask someone to connect with you on LinkedIn or ask for their social-media profile. Technology and social media are the drivers of the new networking world. The act of exchanging business cards is not as popular anymore. Most businessfolk have a LinkedIn account, so sharing and connecting to each other’s accounts is a great way to stay connected with those you meet at networking events.
After the event
The event may be over, but the networking doesn’t stop! It is important that you follow up with the connections you made at the event. Whether it’s a simple message thanking them for their time or discussing potential business opportunities – both can build rapport.
Brooke Arnott, Managing Director, The Small Business Lounge