Love it or hate it, networking is pretty much essential for success, whether you’re running your own business or working in the corporate world or in public sector. Sorry, ladies – there’s no getting away from it!
Words: Rachel Forchella; Photography: Silvana Trevale;
However, as with most things in life, with the right attitude and mindset, even if you don’t manage to fall in love with networking, you can learn how to use it to your best advantage and navigate events effectively.
Here are our top tips for making the most out of your networking experiences.
- Always take business cards. This may sound obvious, but having enough business cards with you (or, at the very least a leaflet or brochure for your business) is absolutely essential. Make it as easy as possible for people to do business with you!
- Be prepared. If a delegate/guest list is available before the event take a look at it to see if there’s a. anyone going that you already know (who doesn’t like to see a familiar face?); and b. if there’s anyone in particular that you’d like to talk to.
However, don’t just concentrate on speaking to the people that you think can “help” you, be open to speaking to everybody there – after all, you never know who that person could introduce you to!
- Arrive early. If you’re apprehensive about attending a networking event it may seem more intuitive to slip in quietly after everyone else has arrived, however, if you do that you’ll probably have to infiltrate groups of people that are already talking to each other. Arrive as close to the official start time as possible and that way you’ll also have the maximum time available to mingle!
- Don’t let impostor syndrome kick in. You have as much right to be there as anyone else. So what if you’ve only just launched? Everyone has to start somewhere. Intimidated by someone taking over the conversation? Politely excuse yourself and find a group where the interactions are more free-flowing. Feel inadequate next to a seemingly “wonder woman”? Everyone has their own unique skills and experiences that make them special.
- Get talking! Even the most talkative person can find themselves tongue-tied when it comes to networking. If this is the case, our first suggestion here would be to try to forget that you are “networking” and just think of the event as a fantastic opportunity to get to meet lots of other like-minded people – this should take the pressure off.
Not sure how to start a conversation? Just smile and say, “Hi, my name is XXX. What’s yours?” Works every time!!
If you do find small talk difficult, just ask questions. Prepare some in advance - everybody loves talking about themselves!
- Be ready to pitch. An “elevator pitch” sounds so late 90s /early 00s, however, no matter what you call it, being able to describe exactly what you do (and, just as importantly, for whom you do it) clearly and succinctly is essential if you want to be able to keep people’s attention.
If you’re really struggling try filling in these blanks: “I’m a ………. and I work with ……… in ………..” For example, “I’m an accountant and I work with independent retail businesses in Yorkshire”; or “I’m a social media consultant and I help UK based accountants to establish an online presence”.
Once you’ve decided what you’re going to say, keep practising it until it rolls off your tongue naturally!
- Be yourself. If your workwear is usually jeans and sneakers (as is often the case these days, especially for those working in the digital or creative industries), don’t feel that you have to get “dressed-up” in a power suit just because you are going to a “work event”, especially if you’re going to be uncomfortable or wobbling around in heels that you’re not used to wearing!
Stick with your jeans, throw a nice blazer on over your t-shirt and either keep your sneakers or switch them out for a pair of brogues. You’re much more likely to make the right impression if you’re feeling comfortable with the way you’re dressed.
- Follow up. You’ve spent your precious time and money going to a networking event, so make the most of it by following up on all the contacts you made. Set aside a couple of hours a day or so after an event to go through all of the business cards you collected and send people a quick “It was nice to meet you” e-mail and connect with them on LinkedIn.
Feeling more confident about networking? Then why not come to a Forward Ladies Power Business Breakfast club? You’ll find a group of inspiring, accomplished and ambitious women just like you ready to welcome you in several cities across the UK.
The meetings usually take place on the same day each month from 9.30-11am – you can find more details here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/o/forward-ladies-6649089083