I smiled to myself as I read it and reflected on my own experiences across a range of business networking meetings- the breakfasts, luncheons or evening events, the people I have come into contact with, the guests I’ve seen speak, the audience participation activities, the great ideas that have been shared with me right when I least expected it that made the whole event worth the time/ money- so many times I have left a networking event with new contacts, business cards, opportunities or ideas that have filled me with such a buzz of gratitude and relief that I turned up!
Yet there have been other occasions where I’ve left a networking event and wondered if I should have just stayed home? Either I met no new contacts or felt like the only person in the room who wasn’t already tight with least 3 people there. As a result I’d feel like an interloper, watching on as people closed ranks and chatted in their comfortable circles.
“You’re a business person?” I’d think to myself as I stood there. “You can’t even go up and talk to these people- who are you kidding?” But faced with a room full of strangers who all (on the surface) are completely engrossed in chatter, it’s a daunting prospect to just go up, poke your head in and interject uninvited- then try and establish some kind of a professional relationship with those people. I’m not even somebody who dreads networking or public speaking- if the person speaking at an event handed me the microphone and told me to ad lib for 5 minutes straight, I’d step up without it feeling like that dream where you turn up to school naked! Yet even for myself, the idea of starting on the back-foot as a stranger interrupting a pleasant conversation between friends or colleagues, could make me feel like I was 13 again and at the school social. I’m watching the pretty girls on the floor and I would love to dance with them, but the thought of going directly up to them and asking paralyses me with fear.
“What if she turns me down? Everybody will see me get rejected and laugh!”
Except the modern equivalent is:
“What if these people are so offended by my interjecting that my name and reputation is tarnished forever and people won’t want to connect with me because they think I’m naturally rude/ pushy?”
Networking is vital for your business, whether you love it, tolerate it or dread it. If you’re in the first group then chances are that at least one of the following three points is already second nature to you- in which case, well done! If you fall into the other two categories (or you’re always scouting for new tips/ ideas) read on as I share with you the 3 biggest things I’ve learnt that make the most difference to my success (and enjoyment) of networking events, big or small:
1) Relax. Networking is an investment, not an instant sell. There’s no need to do the hard-sell. Soon enough, the people you speak to will know who you are and what it is you do. They may even realise within a minute of talking that somebody with your abilities or contacts, is exactly the person they hoped to meet. The beauty of networking events is that it gives you the chance to put a face and a personal identity to your business- even if the person in question doesn’t have a job for you right now, if they remember what your specialty is and they enjoy talking to YOU (the person, not the salesperson) there is always the chance that they will seek to include you in their plans or projects at a future date.
2) Relax. This is not a job interview- so don’t dress like it is. Sure, many people “suit up” for their job, but if you’re not one to don business attire of a daily basis in your professional life, don’t suddenly feel the pressure to do so because you’re going to a networking event. While being neatly presented (clean teeth, nails, hair, shoes etc.) should still be on your checklist before heading to an event, don’t be afraid to bring your own individual sense of flair or taste when it comes to dressing for the occasion. I was recently talking to a business partner of mine, and she observed how people often change their behaviour when they “suit up”. It’s as if there’s an invisible, external behavioural standard that comes into play just from changing their wardrobe! Provided your appearance is tidy and your clothes are clean, don’t be afraid to stand out from the crowd if that’s what feels natural for you. Not only will you feel more composed and relaxed on a subconscious level, but daring to show your individuality in a crowded room could be just the thing that makes people notice you- and want to introduce themselves!
3) Relax. Listening is just as important as speaking. It can be easy to overthink, to worry about saying the “right” thing or perfecting your “spiel”. While it’s a great idea to prepare how you “sell” your product or expertise, remember that listening to the other person is just as important. Take note of as much information as you can while other people are speaking to you at an event. Perhaps there’s something about their business that you are just the person to help them with and they haven’t realised it? You may go on to suggest working with that person and the offer may not go any further than mere talk, but at least that person will go away feeling as if you actually listened to them, as opposed to just doing the “hard sell” and viewing them as another potential sale without bothering to listen to them or try and understand their business.
Most importantly, avoid the temptation of feeling like a failure if you leave a networking event without signing anybody up/ selling your wares/ selling your services. Focus most of all on establishing and maintaining relationships. Relationships are one commodity that every single person depends on, whether professional or personal. No man (or woman) is an island. Even if the people you speak to have no need for your services or your products, there’s every chance they will know somebody who does- and why wouldn’t they recommend an intelligent, understanding person like yourself? They will give you a glowing recommendation because while you didn’t successfully sell your business to them, you sold YOURSELF. All your success as a networking business person follows on from that point alone. Get this right, relax, and the seeds you sow will begin to grow!
Do you have any other great tips that have worked for you? Feel free to share them in the comments section!