By Women’s Chapter Founder, Michelle de Klerk
We lead such busy lives, juggling work, family and home commitments, that we barely get time to indulge our passions and interests, let alone find time to network.
The idea of giving up precious time to walk into a room full of strangers and speed connect before the bell goes turns most of us cold, so it’s not surprising that networking has such a bad reputation. There are hundreds of networking events out there and depending on what you are looking to achieve, here are my top tips on how to network effectively and most importantly, enjoy doing it.
Try to select more niche, targeted events where there is an educational component or topic you are interested in. This way you will have guaranteed shared interests with the other guests attending and the headline theme instantly gives you something to talk about – avoiding the need for small talk or silences. Round tables, dinners or more structured events are a great way to meet new people without the awkwardness of having to move from one cocktail table to the next or running the risk of being stranded with no one to talk to. I always try to choose events that offer an interesting backdrop like an art gallery, new restaurant or hotel or unusual pop-up space, as that way it feels more like an evening out rather work.
Always make sure you have enough business cards with you and if you run your own business, make sure they have impact or say something about you. Can you explain in 10 seconds or less what you do? It is going to be the question you answer most, so it should roll off your tongue confidently and eloquently. If you are able to get an idea of who else is on the guest list, try to look up a few of the guests on Linkedin beforehand. People are always impressed when you know something about them and it sets the foundation for a very positive connection. On the way there, think about some points or questions you have around the theme, so you can engage with others. This may go without saying, but also make sure you are well groomed and dressed appropriately. Unfortunately people’s first impressions last and if you look like a wreck, people may have passed judgement before getting to know you.
Engage and show genuine interest in who you are talking to by making eye contact and actually listening. I tend to babble when I am nervous, so when talking to someone new, I constantly remind myself to stop, focus and listen to what is being said. Listening also allows you to assess the business needs of those you are talking to and give you the opportunity to tailor your offering accordingly.
Being a good listener will make you stand out and aside from making the person you’re talking to feel valued, you will have the opportunity to gain market intelligence, learn about a different sector or simply be inspired by their journey.
Let people in and share things about yourself. This doesn’t mean talking about your children or partner all night but try to open up enough to give the person you’re talking to a bit more insight into what makes you tick. Being open and honest is very endearing.
Networking is a two way street and if you are just out for yourself, you will find it hard to make many meaningful connections. If you feel that someone is monopolising your time or you haven’t struck a connection, politely say that there are a couple of other people you need to find or meet before you leave and excuse yourself.
Be a connector
Drop your agenda and take a step back from that urge to grab someone’s business card and move on to the next person. Offer to introduce them to people at the event you might have met earlier or those from your external network that you know will have value for them. If you take a genuine interest in how you can help people to make connection, you will not be soon forgotten and you’ll be surprised at how much positivity comes from this small change in mindset. Someone famous once said “one good conversation is worth 100 business cards.”
If you feel that you have made a good connection, personal or business, follow up the next day with a personalised Linkedin invitation, email or Tweet. Don’t add people on Linkedin for the sake of adding them.