Whether you love it or loathe it, networking can often become a necessary evil, certainly for anyone who wants to put the time and effort into advancing their career and improving their future opportunities. Some people find the process really simple, while others will literally shake from head to toe at the very prospect of entering a room full of strangers. Whichever category you fall into, there’s no need to worry, as Rashmi Dubé, author of Making a Splash (a Personal Guide to Networking), has provided her ten top tips to give you the helping hand you need.
Starting with the basics:
1. Make the effort
Ok, so it may sound like a really simple tip but when you go along to an event, make the effort. Don’t just stand in a corner looking into your phone. You can’t expect that in every situation people will approach you, so it’s important you build up the confidence to start a conversation.
The refreshments table or bar can be a good place to meet people. Grabbing someone a drink is a great way to break the ice!
This is often a really difficult tip for people when they are nervous. It either goes one of two ways; you either say nothing at all (refer to tip one) or you gabble and can’t seem to stop. Think about the event before you go along and consider what questions you can ask that people can engage with. Not only will the people you meet have a better time, but you will too!
3. Dress code
Make sure you check if there is a dress code, particularly if it’s an evening function. There is nothing worse than making the effort to go along to a networking event to find that you are too casual or too formal. It certainly won’t help your nerves.
4. Hands and nails
Now this may sound silly, but many people believe that you can tell a lot about a person from their hands and nails. If you bite your nails then try to file them neatly before attending an event. If you have longer nails then consider painting them. You’ll be shaking a lot of hands, so it’s good to have them looking preened.
This also applies to men too. Don’t just assume that because you’re male you can leave your hands feeling rough and your nails bitten and chewed. One quirky way to remember, and to make it a priority, is to think of yourself as a magician. When doing card tricks magicians have their hands and nails on show all of the time, so they have to make the effort – the same should go for you too!
As with hands and nails, it really is important that shoes are polished. People often take notice of the footwear that someone chooses, so make sure that you have a pair on that really represent the person that you want people to buy into, particularly when they are taking the time to network with you.
6. Creating an alter ego
Many people create an alter ego when they network and this is often to help them with nerves. The trick here is to remember that you need to keep up that pretence, so make sure that the person you want to be is truly reflective of your character, otherwise you will find it difficult to maintain. Remember, if you pick someone you admire it makes it easier to call upon their traits – including confidence.
7. Find the people you want to connect with
Networking is like chess, it’s often about strategic moves. Before some events you may receive a delegate list by email. If you really want to get the most from your networking then take the time to identify those that you want to meet with and ask for an introduction. If the organisation hosting the event is unable to facilitate this then simply look up the person on LinkedIn and ask them to connect with you. Make reference to the event and the fact you’re looking forward to meeting with them. More often than not, they will be only too happy to give you five minutes of their time.
8. Difficult topics of conversation
There are always people at professional functions who seem inclined to want to bring up topics of conversation that are either controversial or simply baffling. In both instances, there is a suitable response; in the first all you have to do is explain that it’s not something you would like to discuss and in the second, ask them to explain.
You aren’t expected to know everything about a given subject and there are simply others that like to make people feel uncomfortable and that’s not what networking is all about.
Although it may not appear so from the outset, networking is often about etiquette. Saying please and thank you to waiting staff, buying a round of drinks and generally being pleasant to the people around you will have a lasting impact on those you meet. Manners cost you nothing and when you’re building a network of people you hope to do business with, remember that the same rules should apply. There is no point in creating a network of people if you don’t want to engage with them.
10. Exchanging business cards
Exchanging business cards may seem somewhat old fashioned in a world that is increasingly dominated by social media and digital but they still exist and they can come in particularly handy. There are two phases to business cards; getting them designed and printed and handing them on. The design and print of your business card is directly reflective of you and your brand, so make sure that is the case. Cheap cards may be, well, cheap but is that what you want to become? If not, then spend the time having some high-quality cards designed and printed so that when you hand them over they have the impact you want. Once you have your business cards, take them out of the box and make sure you have a small stash in every business jacket and bag that you have. This will stop you from forgetting them. There’s nothing worse than meeting a great contact only to realise you have absolutely nothing to pass on to them.