The prospect of spending a whole day or evening talking to a group of strangers can strike a bolt of fear into even the most confident of people. However, for many professionals, networking is still one of the most effective ways of forging long-lasting and fruitful business relationships. Despite all the advances in modern technology, the old adage still rings true: people want to do business with those they like and trust.
In a fast-moving world where first impressions are formed in seconds, perfecting your networking skills can be invaluable in growing your business and taking your career to the next level. Learning and following some basic rules of etiquette will boost your confidence and help you enjoy networking events rather than view them as a form of social torture.
1. Have a clear Purpose
Do not just attend networking events for the free food and drink or because your friends are going to be there. When you receive an invitation, consider carefully the benefits of accepting it by asking yourself the following questions: Who will be there? What long-term opportunities are likely to present themselves? Do I want to make new contacts, cement existing relationships or gather more information about the market?
Once you have clarified your goals, decide whom you want to target and what questions you would like to ask them. Make sure that you bring enough business cards so you avoid the embarrassment of having to write down your details on a piece of paper or a phone screen.
2. Look approachable
Don’t hover by the buffet table or hide in a corner. Try to stand in a visible part of the room, relax your facial muscles and smile at people if they look at you. If someone comes up to you or you decide to approach another person, make eye-contact, smile and stand up straight with your shoulders pushed back slightly. However tempting it may be to use your phone as a crutch, leave it in your bag or pocket rather than scrolling through emails to make yourself look busy.
3. Perfect your handshake
A confident handshake is an essential part of making a great first impression. On no account do you want people to be able to compare shaking your hand to holding a dead fish. If done correctly, a handshake can help establish trust and connection between two people and make them view each other favourably.
Here is a brief guide to perfecting your handshake: If you are seated you should always rise to shake hands. Extend your hand towards the other person while maintaining eye contact and smiling briefly. Make palm to palm contact with their hand and make sure the pressure of your grip matches the other person’s.
4. Start the conversation with a question
Most people love talking about themselves so asking a question that invites a longer response than simply ‘yes’ or ‘no’ is a great way to initiate a conversation. Some examples of open-ended questions would be “How did you get into _______?” or “What made you come along to this event?”
Make sure you listen attentively to the response and ask follow-up questions to move the conversation forward. Show interest in the other person and encourage them to speak by smiling and nodding during the conversation. If you cannot think of a follow-up question, you can use statements such as “Tell me more” or “That sounds interesting” to encourage the other person.
5. Develop your Elevator Pitch
At any networking event, you are going to be asked what you do or what company you work for. If you want to maximise your career opportunities, one of the first tasks on your to-do list should be to craft an ideal “Elevator Pitch”. This is the 30-second speech that summarises WHO you are, WHAT you do and WHY you do it. To create a successful Elevator Pitch, you need to have a clear goal or objective of what you want to achieve.
Here are some tips to get you started:
• Try to come up with an innovative or creative way to say what you do.
• Be clear about the benefits that your product or service offers other people.
• What are you good at? Pinpoint your strengths and highlight them in your Elevator Pitch.
• Keep it sharp and concise. Avoid flowery language and big words that you may stumble over.
Be careful not to use hard sale tactics or to monopolise the conversation. You are there to meet people, build rapport and establish connections— that is the entire purpose of the event.
6. Don’t Forget to Follow Up
The goal of networking is to create opportunities that will help grow your business or boost your career. If you meet someone who fits the bill, make sure you exchange business cards before you leave the event. Follow up with an email the next day to say how much you enjoyed connecting with them and suggest a meeting or telephone call to further discuss how you can work together.
It should go without saying, but make sure that you structure your email properly and check all spellings, grammar and punctuation before you hit send. Always ensure that you spell out the benefits to the other party, do not just focus on your own business needs. Networking is just the starting point of a new business relationship, effective follow-up is key to developing and deepening it.