You’re in the conference room of a very grey office building. Twenty others are milling about in name tags. You’re juggling a whole armload of armour, glass of red in your right hand and a cocktail napkin in your left, three vegetable tartlets precariously stacked. The big conundrum is not how you are going to introduce yourself and make a good impression, but how you might possibly get one of those tartlets in your mouth whilst maintaining some measure of dignity. Ugh. Rewind.
Networking needn’t be so unpleasant. The old ways are slowly giving way to new traditions. It’s time to get creative. What works for you? Networking is infinitely more effective when carried out in a way that is uniquely you. Where are you most comfortable connecting? Under what circumstances do your talents really shine? Those are the events you should seek out.
Let’s clear some things up first. By networking, I mean connecting in the following way:
1. live and in person
2. with (relative) strangers
3. on a professional level
What about social media?
Social media is a kind of networking, but it isn’t really connecting. It can however be a great conduit for the real thing. LinkedIn, for example, is a good way to make an initial connection and source out people you’re interested in meeting. A few meaningful messages exchanged online can open the door to a close professional relationship. Making the connecting live and in person is the vital next step. Would you sign a contact or hire a new employee who existed for you solely online?
How to stand out
The trick we’re all trying to master, of course, is to appear both interesting and interested. To begin with, you must select the event wisely. Avoid generic networking groups like the plague. Who is your target market? For example, if you’re in the health industry, you might be interested in events that draw doctors, nurses or other health professionals. Don’t limit yourself to “networking events” specifically. Conferences and public speaking engagements are a great way to connect with like minds.
How about organizing an event yourself? Do you belong to a LinkedIn group you are particularly fond of? Here you have the added benefit of knowing who might be there and doing some research ahead of time. Get informed about who they are and what they do. Prepared questions generally come off rather canned, but if you have some extra info under your wing, the conversation will flow easier. Whatever the event you’re attending, it wouldn’t hurt to bone up on the latest news in the industry. You need to be prepared for whatever conversation comes up. The latest news in the business is a great conversation starter, much more interesting than the weather.
Network everywhere, all the time
Networking is part of life. You can do it on the train, in the lobby of your building, at lunch and at the races. Remember, your network grows exponentially with every new contact you make. There is always the potential to connect further with your contact’s contacts and so on and so forth. The possibilities are endless.
- Have a drink or have a snack, not both. You need a free hand for shaking and gesturing.
- Don’t drink too much. You need to keep your wits about you. Sip slowly. When even one else gets tipsy, you’ll have the upper hand.
- Don’t hang around the buffet table. You’re not there to hang with the shy people. Get out there where the cool kids are.
- Do your research. Your time is precious. Attend the right events.
- Shake things up. Try different types of events. Put yourself in unusual situations. Give a speech. Make joke once in awhile.
Amy Knapp is a business blogger based in Sydney, AUS, writing regularly forInsideTrak. Educated in Law and the Fine Arts, her work champions the marriage of the creative and the corporate. Follow her on Twitter@JoyofWords.