For some, networking events provide an opportunity to meet like-minded people and are the highlight of the working week but for others, this isn’t always the case. If you’re dreading the early morning business breakfast you booked or often find yourself shying into the corner of a room full of potential customers, then our simple guide to networking success should help.
Planning is the key element to a successful networking experience that many people overlook. Scope out events in your area or look for networking opportunities in locations that you would like your business to succeed in. If you find yourself double booked or missing out on potential opportunities, consult a member of your team who may be able to help you represent the company at events. Pre-book events where possible and put them in your calendar so as you and your co-workers know that you’re committed to attending. Manage your workload in advance and prepare for time spent travelling to and from events. It is also important to put some time aside to carry out any follow up afterwards.
Some networking events are very formal and will require you to arrive on time to sign in or to ensure that you don’t miss any speakers that may be attending. Other events are significantly more relaxed and operate on the basis of dropping by for a chat and sparing as much time as you have. We would however, recommend that you try to arrive in good time as tea and biscuits can run out quickly at such affairs!
Punctuality is important but you should also appear clean, professional and appropriately dressed to ensure that you present a positive impression of your organisation. Remember that you are representing your company at all times and the first impression people have of you as an individual is also the impression that they will take away from the event about your business. Body language plays a key role in the way that you are perceived so make eye contact and smile as you meet new people. A firm handshake, good posture, and positive gestures when you speak will all help you to impress at your next networking event.
Don’t lose focus of your reasons for attending a networking event in the first place. Keeping your goals in mind while you network will enable you to reap the rewards of business networking, whether you want to raise brand awareness, promote an event or increase referrals. Taking leaflets, flyers or other marketing materials to your next event is an effective way to promote your business. Some networking groups even allow attendees to bring full-size exhibition banners so don’t miss out on this invaluable opportunity to get your message heard...and don’t forget your business cards!
Minutes pass so quickly that even hours feel like a short space of time but when you’re confronted with a room of weary strangers at seven thirty in the morning, sixty seconds feels more than enough. Almost a thing of the past amongst some networking groups, the dreaded sixty second speech is enough to make even the most hardened of businesspeople rethink their morning meeting. The truth is that no matter how much you rehearse your elevator pitch, it will rarely go to plan. Intend to communicate clearly and coherently instead, speaking openly to the room and conveying your message effectively. Have an idea of what you want to say and make sure that you cover the basics including:
- Who are you?
- What company are you from?
- What role do you carry out?
- What are your responsibilities?
Still dreading it? Next time you’re at a networking event, listen carefully to others during their sixty second speech. What did you find engaging? Can you identify any similarities between the most effective pitches? Perhaps you’ll notice that a touch of humour works as a remedy to those networking nerves.
Speaking is essential at any networking event but you may find that listening proves far more worthwhile. Actively listen to the other attendees, engage, interact, asks questions and show interest. You may find that you share similarities with the people you meet or perhaps you’ll be able to identify issues that affect both of your businesses. Networking events provide an opportunity to listen to people’s problems and share your solutions which can frequently pave the way for potential sales.
It’s great to speak with as many people as possible but you should prioritise meaningful conversations that will make a lasting impression on your new acquaintances. A handful of business cards is of less value than an ongoing dialogue with a new contact who could benefit from your services. At the same time, catching up with old friends and familiar faces can seem like time well spent at an event, but it’s not until you step out of your comfort zone that you will really reap the benefits of networking. Remember that confidence is key and will not go unnoticed at a networking event.
It’s easy to get caught up with the excitement of a free brunch but without proper follow up, any opportunities from a networking event can be lost. During the event, you should note down any names or contact details of the people you’ve spoken with as well as any additional information about your discussion. You may also think of new ideas or identify improvements that you could implement in your own workplace so it is important to write everything down. Carry out follow up as soon after the event as possible by researching new businesses, following companies from the event on social media, or reaching out to attendees through LinkedIn. Remember that you will however, need consent if you plan to add any of your new contacts to your business database. In some cases, you may find that an email or telephone call to arrange a meeting is more effective if you want to continue a conversation or pursue an opportunity.
Don’t give up - networking success is rarely achieved in a day. If you find that it’s working for you then fantastic but if not, then explore new networking groups or try a different approach. It’s important to ensure that you make an impression for the right reasons but you should also be yourself and endeavour to have fun with networking.
…Oh, and remember to return your name badge before leaving this time!