The online world has made it so simple to meet people – except you aren’t really meeting them at all. In fact, social media networking makes it easier to keep your distance. It is a poor substitute to building relationships with people face-to-face. However, it is so quick and easy to network online, the idea of actually having to make small talk at some industry event can be daunting. As Hannah Patel, commercial director at PR agency Red Lorry Yellow Lorry candidly admits, “Networking is a big part of my job. And to be honest, I don’t always enjoy it.” Patel adds: “We’d all prefer to chat to a colleague or a client at an event than speak to people we don’t know.”
It can be awkward introducing yourself to people at events. One top tip for making it less painful is to get there early. Louise Vaughan, managing director of Acceleris, says: “It sounds strange, but you can have more in-depth conversations than when the event’s in full swing as there are fewer people and distractions. This could be the difference between just meeting someone and developing a new opportunity.”
A big no-no when it comes to engaging people is to take a sales approach. Vaughan says: “Never go in with a sales head, you may come across forceful and aggressive, doing you and your business no favours. Instead let conversation flow naturally and keep clients in the front of your mind should something relevant crop up. And always make sure you do follow any leads up afterwards.”
Another way to help take some of the stress out of networking events is to make your own events. Vaughan suggests creating opportunities by linking the branches of your own networks. “Bringing clients and contacts together for mutually beneficial projects can benefit all parties concerned whilst helping the agency’s new business pipeline at the same time.”
My top five tips for face-to-face networking
Hannah Patel, commercial director at PR agency Red Lorry Yellow Lorry:
- Don’t be scared .We all feel nervous about approaching people at an event to say hello. But just remember that everyone else probably feels the same as you. The more direct and honest you are, the more people will engage with you.
- Be sensitive. If you approach someone at an event or online you have no idea if they’ve had a crap day, are in a rush, are painfully shy or just don’t want to chat. Always be sensitive to this. Approach with the same confidence you would in an arranged meeting, but don’t go barging over as if you’re a long-lost relative. Keep it quick and useful, and read the other person’s body language to assess if they’re engaged.
- Ask insightful questions. Don’t just chat about the food at the conference, or the weather.
- Do your research in advance. For example, do a news search for the company before approaching them, and if there’s something interesting, mention it.
- Don’t waste time. If you’re chatting to someone at an event, but you see someone you’re keen to meet, don’t just stick it out to be polite and not listen to anything the person’s saying. Just be honest, if you’ve chatted for five minutes, then it’s perfectly acceptable to excuse yourself from the conversation. Nothing frustrates me more than when you’re chatting with someone at an event and they’re looking over your shoulder trying to catch someone else’s eye.
Jaime Gee, managing director of PR agency JAM:
- Be people-focused. Good networking shouldn’t feel like a business transaction. Engage in conversation and treat people as people – you’ll find common ground more easily this way. Remember that although that person may not be useful to you now, take their card and bear them in mind for the future.
- Make yourself memorable. Is there something stand-out or unique about you and your job? To make a strong first impression, be concise and clear about what you do in the industry you work in, without bombarding people with a full-on sales pitch.
- Keep an open mind. Be open to meeting people from new sectors and be interested in learning more about them. Ask about other events they go to, to see what other circles they move in and find out about other good networking events you can go to.
- Be clever with your time. Spend a reasonable amount of time with people while you have a good conversation going, but make sure you allow time to meet other people.
- Remember to follow up. This is where technology consolidates your hard work. If you had a good conversation with someone, drop a quick email/tweet/connect on LinkedIn to keep in touch and maintain the relationship.
Written by Daney Parker
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