The art of networking, Part 1: How to prevent a conversation stopping before it even starts…
For some managers and business owners, networking can be terrifying. Although some networkers can glide from group to group with no trouble, others freeze at the prospect of ‘working the room’ – and for some, the thought of meeting new people and having to initiate conversation sees them avoiding the event altogether.
Have you ever sat on the sidelines at a networking meeting and longed to be more confident? Do you envy those who appear to be completely at ease?
As with most things, to fail to prepare is to prepare to fail. If you’re someone who fears clamming up because you’ve nothing to say, or you’re not well-versed with approaching and engaging new contacts, thinking things over before you attend will help you feel better prepared. And if you need more intervention than my tips afford, my career coaching can help you develop and build on your confidence.
Here are my tips to ensure you’re fully briefed and ready to network…
1. Most events send out a list of attendees prior to the meeting itself, which gives you an opportunity to briefly research those you’ll be networking with. Whilst some people will be of particular interest to you and your business/company, and others less so, getting a feel of all who will attend and finding something of interest will give you material for a conversation regardless of where you’re asked to sit or which group of attendees you approach.
2. Be aware of subconscious signals. Your attire, body language, your mood and choice of language can send cues to fellow networkers that may influence their impression of you. Think about the elements you’re able to control beforehand and consider how you would perceive yourself if meeting ‘you’ for the first time. First impressions cannot be replayed, so practise making good eye contact. Perfect your handshake and consider the conscious and subconscious etiquette of the group and surroundings before you go.
3. Find a way to physically ‘anchor’ yourself in the mind of the person you’re speaking to. Repeat your name as you shake hands so that it lodges in their mind. If you may have a mutual contact, mention their name so that your fellow networker can make an association; they’re much more likely to remember you again. If you’ve previously met, mention where and how. Use their name in conversation – it helps them to engage and reinforces the relationship between you.
4. Break the ice effectively. Having researched before the event, aim to find out more using open questions once you’ve been introduced and as a conversation starter. Although you may have specific topics you’d like to discuss with various attendees, consider that they may not initially know/agree that there is a common/vested interest between you. People’s titles can be quite vague – ask about their day to day duties rather than assume things about their position. Find some shared, familiar ground and expand from there.
Networking is just another skill to master, and the more prepared you are, the more confident you will feel. If you consider enough eventualities before you go to the meeting, you’re less likely to be struck dumb when placed in any group or introductory situation. With practice, networking becomes easier.
In my next blog, I’ll talk about keeping the conversation going, once these first impressions and introductions have been made. Conversation is a skill too, and keeping those you meet engaged is something else you can prepare for.
If you’d like help to become a more successful networker or if you’ve an alternative problem that executive coaching could help you address, get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.