Networking events can such be a great way to develop contacts and strong working relationships with influencers in your industry. The hidden job market is becoming even more prominent and according to Youth Central Victoria, 75-80% of job vacancies are not even being advertised. It is not always what you know, but instead can be about who you know!
Perhaps you think networking events just aren’t your thing hello fellow introverts!) or maybe you aren’t sure how to get started – it can be pretty strange if you are entering this unchartered territory for the first time. Here are 5 networking tips that (hopefully) won’t make you cringe.
1. Use business cards to your advantage
When you go to your next networking event, take a stack of business cards. Sounds pretty obvious right? Maybe. I have forgotten to take business cards to events. There have also been occasions where I have not taken enough. Don’t be stingy – grab a whole stack before you go. Keep an emergency stash in your handbag and be ready to give those babies out like your life depends on it.
On the flipside though, you have to be prepared to receive business cards from others. If they aren’t offered, you should ask for them! Business cards are the best way for you to keep track of who you have spoken to – AND they provide contact details so you don’t have to stalk conduct non-creepy searches for your new friends on the internet to find out their email addresses.
One cheeky trick that I like to use is to discreetly write little reminders on people’s business cards so that I don’t forget who they are – especially if I have spoken to a whole heap of people at one event. Notes like “pink jacket” or “spoke about Orange is the New Black” are perfect to quickly jog your memory. Dot points about your conversation in particular can be a really good starting point for next time!
2. Set small goals
Do you find it a bit daunting going to a networking event with the expectation that you will come away with loads and loads of new business buddies? Cut yourself some slack and recognise that in reality that is a pretty big ask, especially if you have any introvert tendencies. By setting yourself some smaller goals, you can work towards and achieve your own level of success at a networking event – and feel really good about it too!
Instead of heading into your next networking event with the aim of speaking to as many people as possible, change things up and aim to make one memorable connection. Spend the networking event looking for one person that you have something in common with. It is a great feeling when you can leave an event knowing that you have started building a really positive relationship. Depending on your behavioural style, it can actually be far more fulfilling than getting 100 business cards.
I might be an #introvert, but I network like a #boss!
3. Not all networking events are created equal
Networking events are like handbags. There are so many different styles, all with different functionalities and just like handbags, not all networking events will suit you. There are breakfasts, lunches, after work drinks, events with speakers, events with forums and some with a focus on networking itself. Why is this important? Well in my experience…
Breakfast events are great.
They are outside of work time, so you can fit them in around your work schedule if your boss isn’t supportive of you doing this type of thing. Because they are early in the morning, they usually tend to attract people who are serious (about either the material or networking!) and not just people who are going to an event because the business paid and they get a free meal. These usually involve a buffet breakfast and a presentation. Keep in mind that because people are rushing off to work, there isn’t a great deal of time to mingle afterwards.
Lunch events are my favourite.
They usually run for a few hours, include a nice lunch meal, a presentation of some sort and a good chance to network, particularly with the people that are at your table. One of the reasons that I love lunches is that everyone is eating, so there is less pressure to be chatting the whole time. This may seem counter-intuitive, but for introverts, the breaks in communication are welcome.
After work drinks allow you to get more personal.
When people have finished work for the day and are out having a drink, they tend to be more relaxed and open to building relationships. These events will usually include some sort of presentation, but the evening allows you to mingle with the other attendees and stay on longer if you are enjoying yourself. Just remember though that as most people are starting to wind down at these functions, you need to be careful to match their mood. Don’t go for the jugular and start interrogating them about their business if it seems like they want to just chill out and natter about their family or pets. It is that sort of rapport building that will benefit you in the long run.
Networking events are a double edged sword.
Events that are purely organised for networking, with no presentation, are often less industry specific and tend to attract a lot more sales people. This can mean that although you might speak to more people, they may not necessarily be the types of people that will push you forward in your career – unless you are in sales, then you should be seeing every interaction as an opportunity! (I once met a man that designed and produced toilet roll holders! Nothing to do with my business but interesting nonetheless?)
The other side of the “sword” is that these events are so good for practicing your networking skills – you know they say practice makes perfect! Hard-core networking events make me nervous. Did you know there is actually a thing called speed-networking? Imagine this:
You are in a room with a whole bunch of people. You are having a fine chat with someone you just met and you are enjoying hearing about their business. A few minutes later, a bell rings. Your new contact shakes your hand, gives you a business card and walks away to speak to someone else. You start all over again with someone new and the process repeats itself 10 to 20 times before you are allowed to mingle freely without a time limit.
Sound crazy? It is. It is also an incredibly valuable experience because it teaches you how to build rapport quickly and although it is a bit uncomfortable, it can take some of the fear out of networking. After all, a lunch time function will seem like a cinch after speed networking.
Networking events are a double edged sword.Call me "Michonne" and hold onto your head - I'm a master!
4. Have your elevator pitch ready, but remember you aren't a robot!
Do you have an elevator pitch? An elevator pitch is a short spiel that you could present in the duration of an elevator ride. It is a clever trick to allow you to quickly and concisely tell someone about yourself. You don’t have long to make a first impression, so you want your elevator pitch to be well articulated but not too stiff – practiced but not overly practiced. You know what I mean? Here is an example of an elevator pitch.
“My name is Rebecca McFarland and I am a Career Coach. I provide coaching and advice to men and women who are looking to improve their careers or take the plunge and try something new. I have a website, called Pop Your Career, that I use to stay in touch with my audience, providing practical career advice and step by step guidance. My aim is to make sure that you have all of the information you need to make educated decisions about your career – in a really fun way that won’t bore your socks off!”
When it is written, it looks pretty formal right? You need to make sure you use your own voice when delivering. I can hear you saying – “Becca, of course I am going to use my own voice? How would I use someone else’s voice?” When I say “use your own voice”, I mean that you should deliver your elevator pitch in your normal conversational tone. Still not sure what I mean? Here is a quick audio of me delivering the above elevator pitch:
How was that? Super scary for me putting a recording of my voice out there, but good practice for my upcoming podcast right?
Get crafting your elevator pitch now and practice, practice, practice! Try recording yourself and see if you can pick up the points you are struggling with. Work on sounding as natural as you can. And practice on people too! Next time someone asks you what you do, whip out your elevator pitch with pride. No more fumbling to explain your career path or defining yourself by a job title!
5. Follow through
You can follow all of my other tips until you are blue in the face, but it won’t mean much if you don’t follow through. This can sometimes be a little scary, especially if you have any self-doubt. You might be wondering – “what if they don’t remember me?”, “what if they aren’t interested?”, “what if they think I am a weirdo for getting in touch?” I get it. But your new contacts are not real contacts if you don’t make contact with them!
It is totally possible to connect with people without any awkwardness. This is the digital age, so send an email or a message on LinkedIn! In fact, most people would prefer you to connect via one of these methods as it means that they can respond to you in their own time and they aren’t caught off guard. Just remember these points:
- Remind your contact where you met them – “It was lovely to meet you at the XYZ event at ABC venue”.
- If you can, bring up a point that you talked about during your first conversation, especially if it is a little bit personal and helps you to develop rapport – “Thank you so much for the restaurant recommendation. My friends and I went there last weekend and the Pad Thai really was as good as you described” or “I hope your son had a great time at his school camp” – just something that will help your contact remember your connection. Be tactful though and don’t get too personal… you don’t want to come across as creepy.
- Outline your point for sending the email. Are you touching base to give them your contact details? Would you like to meet again to discuss something? Do you want to ask them for something? Are you going to provide them with some value? You really need to have a reason for your email and be clear about it – “I really admire the way you have done XYZ with your career. I would love to catch up to ask you some questions about it if you have 20 minutes to spare.” or “I am not sure if you saw the article about ABC, but I thought it was really relevant to what we were talking about. Here is the link in case you missed it.”
- Be familiar but not too familiar and never ever be pushy. You cannot force a relationship, you can only be open to it.
Well there you have it! These are my top networking tips. Do you have any great stories about networking? Let me know in the comments section. Don’t forget to subscribe for my newsletter for regular career advice, directly in your inbox!