Dipping your toe into the corporate networking scene can be an exciting and daunting experience. The lure of what can often include complimentary canapés and drinks, entices many a character searching for that profitable new deal or vital industry connection. Being a relative newcomer to the world of networking myself, I have only recently stepped foot in the arena and have embraced the practise learning a lot in the process. Here are some tips and tricks that I hope will help you to capitalise on your first networking event and make those out of hours efforts worth the extra work.
No.1 Look the part
First impressions count, it’s important you take a little bit of time on appearance so you represent yourself and your company well. Dress in what makes you feel comfortable and look smart at the same time. Red is well used to portray confidence and assertiveness, impressing your audience. Be careful not to stray too far from the industry standard and make sure that you keep it professional. For the gentlemen, you can’t go wrong with a well fitted suit, crisp white shirt, polished shoes and classic tie. The key is in the detail, colour co-ordinate a hanky and tie, or clash, if you really know what you’re doing. Looking the part will make you feel the part, and feeling the part will give you more presence and confidence when approaching other attendees for the first time.
Bonus tip: Bring mints, bad breath can cut a conversation short!
No.2 Fail to prepare, prepare to Fail
Whilst it’s easy to state the obvious of knowing the ins and outs of your own brand, service or product, spend a moment researching who else is attending. Make a start by asking the organisers for a list of the delegates, they’re often happy to oblige. Think of the event as your stage, and knowledge of attendees as your line prompts. This is your time to shine, so you’ll need as much ammunition as you can get; try their company website, LinkedIn profile, Twitter account and so on. Social media is a brilliant tool in providing a wealth of information allowing you to pinpoint key interests, saving you time and making you appear more knowledgeable and efficient. The more you know, the better you’ll perform.
Bonus tip: Turning up without business cards is like forgetting your bullets at a duel. Come well equipped or risk getting shot down.
No.3 Make yourself available
If you don’t try you won’t succeed. Walking into a room full of new people can be intimidating, but you’ll probably find that most are in the same position as you and the majority (I can’t speak for all) are friendly and accommodating. Try not to sit down or bury yourself in your phone. A genuine smile and a firm handshake will do the trick and undoubtedly get the chins wagging. Don’t just use your ears to listen; eyes, brows and the ability to give an acknowledgeable nod or hum will let your conversational counterpart know that you’re engaged.
Bonus tip: Don’t be the seagull squawking over one chip. You’ll be swatted away if you’re too pushy or impose on an ongoing chat.
No.4 Use your tools and surroundings to your advantage
The smile and shake is the simplest and easiest way to strike up a dialog, but perhaps this isn’t coming naturally. This is where your environment around you comes into play. The bar and buffet are great places to spark an introduction for yourself over a drink. Comment on the wine, the food, the décor or what they’re wearing to gain insight on their interests, find that common ground and get the conversation flowing.You may find yourself in the company of someone not necessarily relevant to your objectives, which can take up a lot of time. Be adaptive, fetching yourself another drink, introducing them to someone you’ve just met or the always effective toilet dash, which will allow you to politely remove yourself from the situation so you can start afresh. But remember, rudeness is a fool’s game. You never know who is connected to who, so make sure you’re giving a polite and professional impression at all times.
Bonus Tip: The most effective tool in your arsenal, sometimes, is the exit. Knowing when to leave is a well garnered skill.
No.5 Even the best cops do paperwork
The contacts have been made, now it the time to capitalise on them. If you’ve had a successful event or not, it is always best to professionally follow up with people you may or may not have met. In the first instance, an email works wonders, allowing them to respond in their own time, so you can gauge if they’re really interested. Whether it is a bespoke summary with a crucial target, a formalised ‘nice to meet you’ or a ‘sorry we missed you’, it always reflects well on yourself and your company to touch base and also increases your public exposure.
Bonus tip: Try not to rush straight into a call the next day unless it was agreed at the event. It can come across as too keen and put people on the defensive.
Use this 5-point process to complete your objectives and make networking an effective use of your time. Fortune favours the brave, who dares wins and if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. Above all, enjoy your break from the office!