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Face to face networking is an important skill to have but sadly it's one that I see many graduates lacking when they start their careers in the 'corporate world'. There's a lot of advice out there about how to network at events and functions and, so as a consultant in professional services, the partnerships and sponsorship manager of a non-for-profit organisation and as a small business owner, I thought I'd share my favourite tips and tricks on the topic...
- Hold your drink in your left hand. No one likes shaking a wet right hand.
- When shaking someone's hand, keep it firm without attempting to break their hand.
- If there are nametags for the event, put it on the right side of your chest. When you shake hands with someone to meet them, your name will naturally present itself to them.
- If you're bad at remembering names, say their name back to them in a sentence, "Nice to meet you, Jane," "How has your week been, John?"
- If there's free food and drinks, exercise some self-restraint. The more food you're eating, the less you have time to engage in conversation. If you're hungry on the way to the event, grab a snack beforehand.
- Always carry a small packet of mints or gum in your jacket pocket or bag. The only thing worse than talking to someone with bad breath at an event is the fear that you are the one with bad breath.
Set a goal to meet 3 new people at every function
- This is an achievable goal that will help you grow your network gradually with meaningful connections. It will also stop you from falling into the trap of gravitating towards the people you already know in the room and not meeting anyone new. (Meeting someone new also means following up with them over the next week via email or LinkedIn).
- When you follow up with someone, don't ask them for a favour straight away. In fact, you should focus on trying to do something for them. Help them with an introduction or send them some information that you think might interest them. Networking is a long game so focus on making new connections and 'paying it forward'.
- Your network should be made up of a whole range of interesting and connected people - they may be another student that you have worked alongside on a group project, or a potential employer.
- Ultimately, you will have a much higher chance of building a strong network of people willing to help you if it is made up of people that you have met you a few times and, even better, people that you have already helped out in some way.
The conversationalist vs the listener
- If you're not the best conversationalist, simply ask the person or group you're talking to questions about themselves. Most people love talking about themselves.
- On the other hand, if you're the kind of person who doesn't stop talking about themselves, practice having some self-awareness and ask yourself, "have I asked this person anything about themselves?" If not, then learn these 3 little words - "What. About. You?"
- "What about you? Where do you work?"
- "What about you? What do you have planned for the weekend?"
- "What about you? What is your biggest achievement?"
- Remember. Listening is not waiting to speak. After all, how will you know if someone will be a great contact to have if you know nothing about them?
Stay focussed on why you are there - the art of the polite exit
- Keep your goals in mind. You don't need to spend the entire event sharing your life story, or listening to the life story of one other person. Part of effective networking is to know when and how to end the conversation.
- The best time to end a conversation with someone you've met for the first time is just after you've learnt enough about what each other does and what their interests are, as well as figured out why this person might be a useful addition for your network. If you start talking about the weather, it's time to go.
- To avoid getting "stuck", don’t approach someone on their own in the first place. I always try to join conversations of 2 or more people. If you do get stuck talking to one person, don't be afraid to end
the conversation by using one of the below:
- My personal favourite (when you see someone you know close by, rope them in): "Jane, let me introduce you to John. John was just telling me about his fascinating life story". Wait for 30 seconds to a minute then excuse yourself and let Jane look after herself.
- Alternatively, when there's a pause in the conversation, signal the end of the conversation by either holding your hand out to shake theirs or hold out your business card. Say something to the effect of, "well, it was a pleasure to meet you. There's a few more people here that I'd hoped to say hello to. Hope to see you soon". Never use the cliché of asking where the bathroom is. Even if you truly need to use it, you will offend the other person because they will think you are bored.
- Know when it's time to go. You don't want to be the person that has had too much to eat/drink and is hanging around at the end of the function. Equally, you don't want to be seen as the first person out the door, as this can be rude to your host. Try to leave after the "main event", which could speeches or a presentation. If that's not possible, you should leave as quietly and without drawing attention to yourself (aka "ghosting" or the "smokebomb".)
- When it's time to go, don't feel obligated to say goodbye to every single person you know or who you have met. There are a few good reasons for this:
- You're unnecessarily drawing attention to yourself. No one cares that you are leaving.
- You may have forgotten people's names, which would undo your earlier good work. Others might be offended if you say goodbye to some but not to them.
- Excuse yourself from any conversation that you're part of and then, using some of the above suggestions, make a B-line for the door. Don't make eye contact with anyone and don't look back. You know that you've smoke-bombed effectively when you get a text an hour later from friends or colleagues asking, "Are you still here???"
I don't profess to be an expert on networking and in fact, I am continually practicing and developing my style of networking. Just like any skill, some people will be naturally better at networking than others but with practice and more practice, you can be a successful networker.
This article has been reproduced by Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand ABN 50 084 642 571 with permission from Michael Bellemore. The original article was first published on LinkedIn on February 29, 2016 and can be accessed here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/michaelbellemore/