Today we are going to coach you, in various hypothetical circumstances, on how to network yourself. Your most marketable entity is, put simply, yourself. In a digital world, we must never disregard the importance and value in face-to-face interactions with clients and like-minded industry affiliates. In the same way, your social networking prior to in-person networking is hugely important.
Hey, do you come here often? Said no one who ever made a valuable connection with a stranger. So, don’t use that cliche as a conversation starter. We know it can be nerve-wracking to be in a room full of important people, knowing that the drink in your hand is only going to last so long before you need to introduce yourself to someone new.
Well, we also know that these people probably aren’t complete strangers. Our world is so centred on social media and online platforms, map-pins could be placed on a bird’s-eye view of the room you’re in to show the interpersonal cyberstalking that has already occurred. So, let’s use social media as somewhere to begin, an icebreaker if you like. But, be careful, you don’t want to come across as a stalker.
Making your move
When you have your 'target' in sight, show that you are aware of their work and that you are interested in them. Also, provoke further conversation with a question (take these examples with a pinch of salt and expand where necessary).
“Hi, are you [NAME]? I loved your post about [TOPIC]. Have your responses to that piece all been positive?”
“Hey! [NAME]. Right? I’ve followed your Twitter for a while, you have a great eye for content. What’s been your favourite meme recently?”
“You’re [NAME] from [COMPANY], yeah? Amazing, I’m [NAME]. Our products are very similar. Here, I can show you how on my [SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORM].”
And, friends, never forget to seal the deal now that you have them in your palm. Get them to follow you back and make sure that you follow up with that new connection afterwards. Putting the emphasis on gaining a new social media connection is only justified if that interaction remains fruitful. Your new acquaintance is a lot more valuable than a '+1' on your profile numbers, so be sure to message them or interact with them in the week following the event and uphold the goodwill that started when you met.
A wise person once said, “The next horizon will be deep integration of the physical and interactive worlds. The future of online is offline”. And, on that note, we need to stress the importance of purely organic, offline interactions. Networking is not universally loved, of course, and it can be anxiety-inducing to not know how to approach someone to start a conversation. A helpful tip in this situation would be to say hello by joining an already nattering group of attendees, with no awkward silence needing to be broken. Metaphorically piggyback on the conversation, and that's half of the hard work done already!
What better place to start than the bar? (Or any space provided with food and beverages). Alcohol is not required but having any drink in hand can be an added confidence boost and gives your hands something to do if you're nervous. It's also immediate common ground and a starting point. We all drink.
Alcohol is the age-old lubricant for sticky situations and it should be handled with the utmost care at networking events. If you do drink alcohol, do not over-drink! Another wise person once said: “Always be seen to be drinking and never be seen to be drunk”. We cannot stress this enough.
You want to build genuine connections here and alcohol poisons you into thinking that you have made deeper connections with people than you would do if you were sober.
First impressions are very important. But, so are the last impressions that you make. Conversations with strangers at networking events can often run dry and it's crucial that you are armed with tactics to politely and efficiently end the interaction and move on to talk to someone else. Utterances such as: asking who else you should meet, asking for their card, introducing them to someone else and simply thanking them for their time and saying goodbye are all apt in this situation.
Quick Networking Tips
Not everyone likes networking - it's a means to an end. Remember you're not the only nervous person there. Approach someone on their own and say hello - they'll likely be relieved!
Figure out who you want to meet before you get there. You may not know who is going, but you can build out the personas of the people you want to meet.
Don't be afraid to tell people who you are trying to meet or why you're there - you may get a helping hand!
Pay it forward - the network effect is strong. Help someone out and stay in touch - relationships develop over time and may yield results as they grow.
Be memorable - find a way to stick in someone's mind. Whether it's your conversation, wearing a bright colour, or being quick to follow up with them. Find a way to make sure you stay in their mind. Think of this as 'professional peacocking'.
Be polite - this goes without saying - and if you ever find yourself in a tricky situation or talking to someone really not relevant, politely bow out quickly! There's always more people to meet!