Have you been to networking events but just ended up chatting to your colleagues and friends all evening? Do you meet lots of new people but struggle to stay in touch? Then you need our tried and tested tips to help you make the most out of every opportunity.
1. Begin with the end in mind If you start by already thinking about the types of people you want to meet and what you want to have achieved by the end of the event, you can avoid leaving things purely to luck. Use this more strategic approach to ensure you actively seek out people you want as contacts in your network. This way you know how successful you have been, even before the end of the event, and will stop you spending too long on unhelpful conversations.
2. Developing a networking mindset You have opportunities to network all the time – not just in specific networking events. People rarely stay in one job for their whole life, so chat to colleagues because at some point they may be a useful contact you can call upon.
You also meet people all the time outside of work. From weddings to gatherings in the pub, there are always new people you can meet and network with. Do not be afraid to take advantage of any situation where you are around new people.
3. Join others with confidence Just by walking and talking with confidence you can change how people interact with you, and how you interact with them. If you want to join a group conversation, it is usually most polite to step up to the group with a friendly smile and good eye contact, and wait for one of them to acknowledge you, then ask if you may join them.
If this is a bit intimidating, then look for someone standing on their own as they are most likely also looking for someone to talk to. You should generally avoid pairs of people because they are more likely to be deep in conversation and may not want to be interrupted.
4. Connect with others Sometimes, particularly if you do not have a lot of time, you may want to speed up the getting to know you stage of the conversation. In such a scenario, use the “Hello old friend” technique, which is where you approach them with the same warmth and enthusiasm you would have if you were meeting up with an old friend you had not seen in a while. This helps the conversation to start in a friendlier and more open way.
However, be careful of being seen as too friendly too soon, as this may put some people off and have the opposite effect.
5. Introduce yourself effectively When meeting anyone new, you can be almost certain that they will ask you some version of the same two questions: “Who are you?” and “What do you do?”. This means that over a night of meeting many new people, you will hear many different answers. But the good thing about this predictability is that you can work out your answers in advance to make your introductions sound more interesting and more memorable, rather than yet another name, rank and serial number.
6. Go from small talk to smart talk Once you have successfully introduced yourselves to each other and probably shared some ‘small talk’ about the weather, food or event speaker, the next step is to get down to business – literally. A good way to shift the conversation is to ask a general open ended question like “How are things at work at the moment?”, or you could briefly talk about what has been happening at work for you, giving the other person a chance to reply and tell you something about their situation.
7. Reciprocation is the key It is important to remember that networking is about give and take, and not just taking what you want. Look for ways you can help the other person, both personally and professionally. Maybe they are struggling on a project and you can give them advice from your own experience, or you can recommend them a good restaurant in the area. By listening and offering to help, they are more likely to want to help you out in return. Plus, sometimes it is just nice to help people.
8. Remembering names and exchanging cards It is easy to start worrying that you are going to forget the names of the people you have just met, but this is only really an issue if you have to introduce the person you are with to someone else, and in most situations people will be happy to introduce themselves. This especially applies to a networking event, where you turn up with the expectation of introducing yourself many times. One method of recalling names that works well is to listen carefully when they say it and then use it soon afterwards in the conversation. This helps it stick in your mind. Don’t repeat the name too much though or you may come across as insincere.
Exchanging business cards is a good way to remember the people you have met, and make them more likely to remember you, but you should only swap cards if you have a good reason to or if the other person requests it first. There is no point wasting your cards on someone who is only going to throw them away as soon as they get home.
9. Exit with grace The point of networking is to meet new people, so you should make sure that you do not end up speaking to the same person the whole time. But how do you politely move on to talking with someone new without feeling like you ditched them? The best approach is to initiate a conversation between them and someone else, or even better see if you can get them to introduce you to someone you do not know.
10. Developing the relationship If you do not keep in contact with the people you met, then there was almost no point going in the first place. Remember to use the classic three-day rule: call or email them within three days of meeting them, but not the very next day because you do not want to seem too keen. This way you can keep the relationship going, building on your initial conversation.
Also, remember that you only have so many hours in the day and you might not be able to keep in touch with everyone you meet. Use LinkedIn for people in your outer circle so you do not lose contact forever, and think about which contacts you want to prioritise and keep in more regular contact with.