Here’s how you make the most of a networking event

Business networking is not just about making introductions and pocketing business cards. If done right, it could be the key factor to help your career take off

silhoutte of people standing and talking to each other in groups, networking

The old adage of ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ is still true today and despite the endless possibilities of reaching out via social media, building relationships face to face will always triumph over other avenues. Did you know that 60 per cent of jobs occur in the ‘hidden job market’ where roles are not advertised but instead offered to someone who has been ‘recommended’?

Networking should form a natural element of your day-to-day life, and is certainly not something to be switched on and off for specific networking events or clubs. From a friend’s birthday party to a relative’s retirement gathering, most occasions present the opportunity for meeting new acquaintances, both young and old, and offer the chance for everyone to expand their circle of contacts.

Most successful networking is a result of gatherings where you are relaxed and genuinely interested in meeting new people. It is, if you like, a by-product of having good social skills.

Whether you are naturally an introvert or an extrovert, networking well will have a direct correlation with opportunities that come your way and whilst the thought may fill you with some apprehension, there is a simple process than can be applied to most business and social situations.

Most successful networking is a result of gatherings where you are relaxed and genuinely interested in meeting new people

Here is my step by step approach to networking with confidence:

Before the event

  • Find out who is going to attend before you go. If it is a formal event then there may be a list of attendees that you can ask for.
  • Set yourself a goal of whom you wish to meet and how you think they can help you achieve your aspirations. If you do not know who is going to be there then simply intend on talking to two or three new people.
  • Prepare and practice your small talk questions beforehand. The importance of this should never be underestimated; we make up 93 per cent of our minds about someone within the first 20 seconds of meeting them so it is essential to make sure you are well-informed and feeling positive.
  • Before the event, spend some time visualising meeting new contacts and looking and feeling confident. This can have a profound effect on the outcome.
  • Prepare a social and business elevator pitch so you are confident in those first few opening sentences.
  • Ensure you have all your props organised: business cards, pen, notebook etc. Ensure everything is neat and organised and easily accessible.
  • Before you enter the event take a few moments to clear your mind of your day so far and what’s to come afterwards. Become present so that you can give your full attention to people.

Do not give out business cards to everyone you meet. They should be treated as a gift and only offered if there appears to be a connection

During the event

  • Always keep your right hand free so you are able to shake hands and make notes. Ensure your props are not hindering you.
  • If you are at a Business Networking Event then remember the objective is to ascertain whether there is any synergy between you and the person you are talking to. This should become apparent within the recommended 5 – 7 minutes spent with each person. If the discussion is successful then be prepared to make the next move and suggest exchanging business cards.
  • Do not give out business cards to everyone you meet. They should be treated as a gift and only offered if there appears to be a connection.
  • When you receive a business card, treat it with respect. Spend a few seconds acknowledging their name and their position and carry a spare business card holder to put the business cards that you receive.
  • If you attending a social event then business cards should only be offered at the end of the evening and with subtly. You do not want to be labelled as a ‘networker’.

After the event

  • Follow up the next day with an email saying how much you enjoyed talking with the person and, if possible, send them something that is relevant to their interests e.g. a social media link or the contact details of someone. Always try to give something before asking for anything in return.
  • Finally if you do wish to develop a relationship then suggest meeting for coffee and propose a date, time and venue. Remember, as you have issued the invitation then you need to pick up the bill.

Try not to feel discouraged if there appears to be no synergy between you and the person you have just met and it is vital to always conduct yourself well; that person may just know someone who can help you so don’t burn any bridges!

A version of this article was first published in the April 2016 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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