5 tips for networking newbies
Ready to make name for yourself in the world of business, but daunted by the prospect of entering the lion’s dens that’s a networking event?
It’s understandable. Networking is high pressure situation where you’re not only required to interact and make a positive lasting impression on strangers– you’ve also got the end goal of building a business relationship weighing on your mind.
But not to worry, because we’ve put together this list of five top tips to help you eradicate those networking nerves.
1. Go online
In the digital age, networking doesn’t just mean scary face to face interactions in crowded conference rooms – most of it can be done online from the comfort of your home.
Social media is an excellent platform for online networking, in particular LinkedIn, as it’s aimed specifically at working professionals. You can use LinkedIn to connect with leading figures in your industry and join groups of sector specialists or people who share similar interests.
Be sure to watch your grammar, spelling and tone when conversing online, as these are some of the main factors that your associates will judge you on.
The internet is also a great place to find out about in-person networking events such as conferences and training courses and more importantly, see what events members of your network are going to so you can meet them in person.
2. Be prepared
Like most things in life, it pays to be prepared when you’re networking. Think of it as a battle, with words as the weapons that will help you to secure victory .
Begin by preparing a few questions that can serve as ice breakers and stimulate conversation. They don’t need to be anything overly complicated, so something simple like ‘do you come to these things often?’ will do.
It’s also worth finding out who will be attending your events and drawing up a list of the people you think you’ll benefit the most from talking to. You should research the people on your list and see if you can find common ground, (attending the same university, shared interests, hobbies), as these ice-breaker points will reduce initial awkwardness and inspire a warm and natural chat.
In addition to this, take some time to think about what it is you wish to learn and gain from attendees (custom, partnership, access to their network etc.). But remember that networking is a mutual relationship, so it helps massively if you can offer something valuable in return.
One of the biggest turnoffs of networking is the fear of making a fool or yourself in front of strangers. And social mishaps are more likely when you’re feeling self-conscious, which is why being relaxed is key to networking success.
When your mind and body are at ease, you’ll be fully present, engaged in the conversation and genuinely enjoy it. And focusing on the person you’re speaking to rather than psyching yourself out about what you’re going to say next helps too.
When it comes to achieving that state of relaxation, think back to that age-old saying of being yourself. By being genuine and accepting of your personality, whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, you’ll find it easier to connect with others and achieve your end goal of building your network naturally.
4. Bring a friend
Bringing along a friend, colleague or acquaintance for companionship and support is a great idea when you’re new to networking. You’d be surprised just how much of a reassurance is provided by knowing at least one person amongst a room full of strangers.
With a friend by your side, you’ll be less tense as you head towards that person on your networking hit list. And if your pal is particularly gregarious, they can even make the necessary introductions.
If you’re not able to bring a friend, your best bet is to be a friend. At a large event, it’s pretty much guaranteed that there’ll be someone there who’s just a nervous as you and waiting for someone friendly and confident to approach them – so why not be that person and find strength in numbers?
5. Follow up
Following up is crucial if you want to build long-term, meaningful relationships with the people you meet at networking events.
You can start by connecting with them on social media a day or two after the event and the most appropriate platforms for fostering business connections are LinkedIn and Twitter, so stick to these unless your new associate has told you otherwise.
Once you’ve established these social bonds, your next job is to keep in touch with your contacts through occasional texts, emails and direct messages. This allows you to stay on their radar, so that when you need their help, they’ll be more amenable. Your messages don’t always need to business related – don’t be overly-familiar, but passing on your regards on birthdays and holidays is appropriately genuine.
Right now, networking might still feel like a necessary evil at best.
But it’ll feel much more manageable if you follow these five tips – and you might even end up surprising yourself by actually enjoying it!