We are heading into the “silly season”. Although I did read that the term relates to a season of frivolous news, generally during summer. For most of us though it relates to this time of year when the end-of-year networking events and Christmas parties happen.
We’re usually a bit more relaxed about going to these events and the concept of “networking” does become a bit more like socialising, as it should be. Social, fun and an enjoyable way to foster relationships.
How do you feel about Networking? For one friend I spoke to on the weekend, it feels uncomfortable – schmoozing and hustling for work. You too may feel uncomfortable as though there is a hidden agenda or it may seem too “salesy”. It doesn’t need to be. It helps to reframe networking as socialising. Just coming together with other people (who are just like you) to communicate with each other, share stories, anecdotes, experiences and perhaps have a laugh.
And maybe you will form lasting friendships and business partnerships as I have done over the years. That is the wonderful outcome of networking.
Meeting new people and connecting with others, I believe will always be at the core of building business relationships. You and your team are in the People Business. Most successful business is still done face-to-face. Communication is the cornerstone of personal brand building and becoming known in your community.
Here are five ideas on how to make networking feel a lot more like meeting new acquaintances and just enjoying their company without any hidden agenda.
1. Shy away from going it alone at first. Go with a friend or meet up with someone you know who is going along to the event. That will help you feel a bit more relaxed. Don’t be tempted to just talk to that one person though – you still need to engage with others.
Both of you can approach a group together and join a conversation or approach the outsider. Find the one person on their own and start chatting to them. By making someone else feel comfortable you will feel more at ease. If you are going alone – attend a network event that is in your field or where like-minded people will be. If it is your area of expertise, knowledge and passion, it will make conversation flow a little easier.
If you are an introvert and networking doesn’t come easily to you, you may have to work a little harder to overcome your fear and anxiety. Most people do feel uncomfortable walking into a room full of strangers. To overcome this, pause and take a few breaths before you enter the room.
Try and have a plan of what your first move might be, such as meeting your friend or lining up for coffee with a question for the person next to you or approaching the raffle table to purchase tickets. Take a pro-active approach rather than just wait for something to happen.
2. Have an objective in mind or an outcome from attending. It’s not going to be – to win a $10,000 piece of business. That’s unrealistic – but you never know in the long term what may come from connecting with someone. Keep it simple to start.
An outcome of engaging with 5 people and exchanging 5 business cards is achievable. Challenge yourself to chat to one or two people before you head to the bar for reinforcement. Make sure you follow through and invite those people to connect via LinkedIn. Some will accept, some won’t. However, eventually you will start to build your network in person and online.
3. Ice breakers. Think of questions in advance that you can ask people. There may be lulls in conversation so having something prepared will help.
Practise how you will introduce yourself and have your personal brand statement prepared for the inevitable, “So what do you do?” question. You may have a couple of versions of this prepared for different types of groups. Answer the question well and quickly and ask them the same question, turning the conversation around to be about the other person.
You’re not there to sell but listen and get to know people, understand their business and build relationships. If you know some of the people who are going to be there, do a bit of online research beforehand to see what they have been doing recently. You may notice they have won an award, opened a new office, released a book – or whatever and can engage in conversation by asking them about that.
If you are an introvert having those questions prepared will help and as you are a good listener, you will feel more comfortable and confident about networking by listening to the other person.
4. Notice others. Take an active interest, asks questions, tune into what they are saying, listen and comment. Get clear on the other person’s name and remember it. You can then introduce them to others with a comment about what they do or something of interest. As an example: “This is Pat, I met him at last month’s event and we’re catching up on his recent holiday to Thailand.”
By simply using their name and saying a little about them, you demonstrate an interest in that person, build more personal rapport and help others with their networking.
Display genuine warmth and friendliness with a warm smile, open body language and good eye contact. Be present in the room with that person and not looking over their shoulder to see if there’s someone more important to talk to.
5. Enthusiasm. Don’t walk into an event feeling dejected or half-hearted about it. If you really feel that way – don’t go. If you are tired and have low energy and really need to recharge you are better off not going.
Smile, when you walk up to a group and introduce yourself. You want to have an uplifting expression rather than looking flustered, or not engaged. Act like you are pleased to be there even if you aren’t feeling confident.
You don’t have to go over the top and be someone you’re not but be the best upbeat version of you. Standing in the corner scoffing the food or scrolling your Facebook feed on your iPhone may make you look busy but is certainly not going to help you win any friends.
Imagine the sense of accomplishment from being there and think about the benefits of attending such as making new contacts, gaining new insight by talking to others and learning something new.
Sue Currie is a speaker and the author of IMPRESSario, Present and Promote the Star Within You. She is passionate about helping business executives and entrepreneurial professionals elevate their personal brand, image and professional presence. Sue’s suite of image management services delivered through workshops, consulting, coaching and keynote presentations provides a multi-faceted approach to gain high transformation for her clients.