How to excel at networking

I reckon I probably do a lot more than many when it comes to networking. When I mention my networking quests to friends and peers, I’m sometimes met with either a look of awe or distaste. It appears that networking is not widely popular – even for those that I think would be great at it.

I’m not claiming to be the most accomplished networker ever. Nor is it something that I have always been comfortable with.  But over time, I’ve developed my skills and have even grown to enjoy networking!

I’m going to share some of the types of networking that I do, below, and how I make it work for me.  Ultimately, it’s just people talking to people. I’ll start off though by sharing a few of the reasons why I network.

Why I network

There are many reasons why I network:

Meet new people

I love meeting new people, and what better opportunity to meet others who are looking to broaden their own network too? It’s instant potential for a win-win situation.

Rekindle old relationships

Whether at an organised event or a less formal setting, I (generally) enjoy meeting people from my past. There’s opportunity to connect via things in you have in common (e.g. a shared past and common acquaintances) and learning what they’ve been up to since. If they’re interested, I’m happy to share my story too.

See familiar faces

Depending on the event, you may find you bump into familiar faces at different events. It sometimes gives you confidence to know there’s someone else you know, even if you don’t speak to them that time around. These existing relationships can help further new connections by way of introductions and can also bring them to top of mind if you’re looking for someone  in their field, and hopefully vice versa.

Meet people I’ve met online

I don’t know about you, but I have some Facebook and LinkedIn contacts that I haven’t actually met and sometimes don’t actually know! I always check incoming requests and if I think they could be useful in future, I’ll accept. Several times recently I’ve met existing online contacts in the flesh at networking events! It has been great to ultimately put a real face (and not just a polished photo) to a name.

Remind people I still exist

They say “out of sight, out of mind’”. It’s useful to get out there sometimes just to remind people that you still exist. They may have seen your latest updates and holiday snaps on Facebook, but a visual reminder that you are a friendly / useful / professional individual, could pay dividends next time they are looking for someone in your field.

Show a different side to me

I love the opportunity to get out from time to time to show people that I’m not just an online character but that I also have a personality. It’s also a great opportunity to tell or remind people that I’m also an accountant, blogger, treasurer, mum etc, or whatever the theme of the event.

You can’t beat face to face contact

Technology can be useful to connect people, but face-to-face contact is still king. Whether meeting people for the first time or developing or maintaining relationships it can still be important. That handshake, smile, wink, shared joke etc., are all part of the reason that help relationships work.

Fake it until you make it

I made a huge transition from accountant to career coach. Getting out and meeting people with my new hat on is a great way of acting in my new identity. It boosts my confidence and allows me to make contacts in a new dimension.

 

Different types of networking

So, what type of networking do I do anyway? I engage in all of the types below:

  • Professional – ICAEW, Chamber of Commerce – Professional members
  • Entrepreneurs and business owners
  • Coaching – Peterborough Coaching Network, 2 The Coaching Academy
  • Company-specific – internal coaching network, internal women’s network
  • Face to face meetings – with 2 ex-colleagues and a linked in contact
  • On-line – meeting various people online for a ‘virtual coffee’

Some have been plugged as networking events, others training courses or other, but all have facilitated networking opportunities.

I’ve found them over time through a combination of word of mouth, LinkedIn groups and connections, Facebook and prior attendance at similar events.

Tips and tricks

Here are some tips and trick that I have to share from my recent networking experience:

Be prepared

Firstly, know what you want to get out of it. Find out who will be there – either in advance or on arrival. Understand the dress-code: this doesn’t mean you need to ‘conform’ but being forewarned is forearmed.

Make it count

If you’ve decided to go, make sure you are there in mind and body. Turn up on time. Be present. Stop looking at your phone. Make the most of your time there!

Be clear which hat you’re wearing

I attend different events for different reasons. Sometimes I’m representing my corporate role externally, sometimes I’m building my entrepreneurial network. Understand who you are at a particular event to ensure you give a clear message to the people you meet.

First impressions count

A few basics here about first impressions. Smile. Good hand shake. Present yourself how you want to be remembered e.g. confident, competent etc.

Be a brighter version of yourself

It’s important to be yourself, to be authentic, but there’s no harm in turning up the volume or the brightness control. I try and talk a little louder (my voice can be quiet), maybe ask more questions than normal, maybe try and be a bit wittier than normal. This may take a little extra effort on your part, but I believe it will make you more memorable.

Safety in numbers

Find out if anyone else you know is going to. The aim is not to remain joined at the hip, but it can boost your confidence if you walk in with someone else, or just knowing someone else will be there. If you’re speaking to others, it may make you look more amiable or interesting. Just don’t stand in a corner with that person all night.

Be interested & interesting

Show a genuine interest in others.  Be curious. Ask questions. Make them feel important. They will remember this.

If they ask you questions, be ready with a version of your story you’re willing to share. Rehearse it, if this helps.

Be inclusive

I now know that many people feel uncomfortable when networking, at least part of the time. I often look for people on their own or looking awkward, whether I’m alone or within an existing group. Be willing to welcome them in.

Don’t get stuck

We’ve probably all been stuck with the talkative / boring person before. Be prepared to end the discussion with a number of exit strategies:

–        “I mustn’t keep you, I appreciate you’re here to meet multiple people”

–        “Have you met John? He could be an interesting contact for you…”

–         “I need the loo” – make sure you go

–        “I’m off to get some food / a drink” – make sure you do

–        “I have a quick call to take”

Swap details, if appropriate

If you want to stay in touch beyond the event, ensure you initiate swapping business cards or other details. If nothing else, make a note of their name and why you are following up.

Follow up afterwards

If you enjoyed talking to someone and you’d like to keep in touch for whatever reason (current or future), make sure you follow up promptly after the event. LinkedIn can be great for this – making a connection or via private message, or you may prefer to email them if they provided their details.

 

Wrap-up

I’m not claiming to be the most accomplished networker ever. Nor have I always been comfortable with it, despite being quite sociable. But over time, like many things, by getting on and doing it I’ve developed my skills and have even grown to enjoy networking!

I hope you can benefit from some of my tips and maybe even try out some kind of networking event soon…and just remember, it’s just people meeting people!

 

Thanks for reading. Check out other Blue Diamond articles to help you take control of your work and life.