Networking events. A wonderful opportunity to engage with the community for some, a necessary evil for others (hello, introverts). Whether an event explicitly sells itself as a networking event or not, going somewhere where there is a group of people and a semblance of organisation a networking opportunity presented.
But how do you do it properly? What if you’re terribly shy?
I admit I floundered in the first few networking events I have attended. I had all the excuses: I’m not a people person. I prefer spending my time either alone or with people I already know. I don’t have the skills, or the inclination, to meet new people for whatever reason. Networking is hard.
Needless to say, my networking skills were non-existent, and my reclusive attitude did not help.
But like most skills, it is gained and gets better with practice. The more networking opportunities I took part of, the more I am getting the hang of it. I cannot say I am now an expert, but I’m not sticking to walls either.
To get started, here are a couple of things to do and consider:
1. The first step is to set a goal.
Ask yourself this: what do you hope to achieve in attending that networking event? Is it to meet potential partners? Or get noticed by your intended market? Even if your goal is as generic as “I just want to see what the people in the community are like,” that is still a goal. Being mindful of your reason for going to networking events (or doing anything at all, actually) gives you the means to measure the success of the activity and identify points for improvement when the opportunity presents itself again.
2. Show up.
Actually go to networking events; don’t sign up and then flake because the thing is for free. Engaging with the community online is a great way to start, but there is much to be said about in-person engagement. Building a productive network for potential partnerships require a feeling, or even just the beginnings of a feeling, of trust. And while the wonders of the internet include the ability to create a vast global network in the comfort of your home, nothing facilitates that feeling of trust faster than physical touch. It’s science; humans are more likely to make decisions to trust those they have physical contact with, which is why most greeting rituals worldwide involve, in one way or another, proximity and physical touch.
Take your pick from the many events with networking opportunities happening every week and make sure you get there. Here are a few to get you started: browse tech and startup events
3. Make sure the people you meet would have the means to connect with you and vice versa.
Two words: business cards. Your business cards should reflect your product and team but make sure that it isn’t too cluttered. Having a business card that makes it difficult for anyone to see at a glance your company’s name, your name, and your contact details is only slightly better than having no business cards at all.
4. But do not overdo it with the cards.
A quick reminder: those aren’t flyers. If I’m being honest, one of the things that annoy me greatly during networking events is when people hand me their business cards as a way of introducing themselves, without so much as giving me an idea of why they think I would want to contact them in the first place. And while the point of going to networking events is to get your name out there, a bigger and much more productive goal is to identify possible partners, clients, and leads – things you cannot get if you just hand out cards without building at least a basic foundation for a solid follow-up.
5. Be prepared to talk to people about your business.
That is why you are there, after all. You can’t build a relevant and productive network if you refuse to engage with others; tuck away the wallflower in you for a moment and get to know the other participants of the event. For introverts such as myself who prefer small groups, networking events are a great way to ease you into the limelight – you get to talk about your business to 2-3 people at a time, in a bit of a more casual setting than an actual formal pitch. I find that it helps to have a mentally prepared spiel for when you are asked what it is you do, as it saves you from making conversation fillers that make you appear unprepared and unsure.
6. You’re a human. Be one.
Who would you rather talk to, the guy spouting off his VR company’s business results or the guy engaging you into a conversation about how VR changes healthcare?
Coming prepared with a company spiel doesn’t mean that you have to recite it from memory the exact way it was written in your website or online blurb. Get into actual conversations. Share your thoughts and insights about relevant topics, whether or not they relate to your business. While you represent your company, you don’t have to aggressively advertise it to everyone you talk to during a networking event. Master the art of subtlety; learn how to take cues from voice inflection as well as the direction of the conversation to know when is the proper (and seamless) time to start talking about your company.
7. Follow through.
You can go to a hundred networking events in a year but if you do not follow through, you would have just wasted time, effort, and money. But it’s not simply touching base with every single person you have exchanged contact details with; a proper follow-through would be to put your goal at the forefront. If your goal is to meet potential clients, prioritise them over partners or suppliers. And make sure to connect with them immediately while the event, and your discussion during the event, can still be easily recalled.
Got tip number 8 (and 9 and 10…) to help build up networking skills? Sound them off in the comments!
Feature image credit: kasto / 123RF Stock Photo