It’s an inescapable fact: building a strong network is vital to career success. While virtual networking is a growing trend and sometimes the only safe option, smart professionals know that building relationships face-to-face will always be valuable and provides multiple advantages over online or video channels.
Attending industry and networking events can be an intimidating prospect, but nevertheless, they are an invaluable opportunity to meet valuable contacts and like-minded people. Here are eight tips to help you overcome nerves and make the most out of face-to-face networking.
1. Lean on your existing contacts
When you arrive at a networking event or conference, aim to meet up with a few of your existing contacts. Familiar faces will help put your nerves at ease. Once you’re settled, ask your contacts to introduce you to others wherever possible – it’s a great way to facilitate a conversation and make the interaction as natural and as organic as possible.
2. Set some networking goals
Before attending a networking event, set some goals ahead of time. Try to make these measurable, like speaking to three potential new clients, meeting someone from a particular organisation or even introducing yourself to the event presenter, keynote speaker or panellists once the presentations and formalities are over. You might even use these opportunities to take new contacts for a coffee or get involved in the next event, if it’s applicable.
3. Be bold and go alone
Although you might feel more comfortable at an event or function when you’re with colleagues or industry peers, it can sometimes be inhibiting. If you attend a networking event alone, you’re more likely to branch out and meet more people. Also, people on their own are more approachable to others and if you happen to have good event hosts, they are quick to make introductions amongst attendees. An easy way to tackle this yourself is to immediately make introductions when you join a table, or approach someone who is standing alone – they might have also turned up on their own.
4. Use open body language
Pay close attention to the way you hold yourself, as your physical appearance and gestures play a huge part in how you communicate to new people. Practise open body language – make eye contact and don’t fold your arms across your body. Ensure that you appear approachable, friendly and ready to engage.
5. Prepare your elevator pitch
You’ve made the commitment to attend, so don’t sit back and wait for someone to speak to you. Get out there and introduce yourself. Be confident and have your ‘elevator pitch’ – a short summary of what you do, your expertise and so forth – at the forefront of your mind so you can quickly and easily engage people in conversation.
6. Be a good listener
Successful networking is all about mutual interests and mutual benefits. Make sure you are genuinely listening and responding to the people you meet rather than talking at them. Work out what you could do for them, as well as what they could do for you – and even make other introductions where you can. Through networking at industry events, many professional relationships develop further when both parties are comfortable being transparent, while understanding that the insights and information shared remains highly confidential.
For example, senior executives from separate companies might meet up every quarter to discuss business transformation challenges they are both experiencing. Or perhaps one has just completed the journey and can share some practical advice about what to look out for, or how to navigate the process more smoothly.
7. Don’t go in with an ulterior motive
While successful networking can lead to new clients, job opportunities and business deals, don’t expect them to happen during the event itself. Your aim first and foremost is to meet and interact with valuable contacts – so avoid any hard sales pitches or business propositions, unless the event is specifically designed for this purpose.
8. Follow up
Last, but not least, don’t forget to follow up with your new contacts to help keep the momentum going. Depending on the nature of the relationship, this might involve catching up over coffee, keeping in touch via LinkedIn or arranging a more formal business meeting.
Looking for job opportunities beyond your existing network? Explore our open roles or talk to one of our specialist recruitment consultants today.
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