Love it or loathe it, networking is one of the most under-rated yet effective ways to generate new business, develop mutually beneficial relationships with key stakeholders (including potential employers) and access a wider professional audience, than you would otherwise have access to. It’s all about making a positive impact - and its importance has never been greater.
As professional communicators, we are one of the disciplines best suited to slick, targeted networking skills, whatever our personal reluctance. However, if you’re still tempted to hide in the corner tweeting when the next work-the-room opportunity arises, here are The Work’s top 5 tips on perfecting those all important introductions.
Do your homework: The first thing you should do after accepting the networking event invitation is some research. Ask the organisers to send you a list of attendees so you can identify who to talk to during the session to make best use of your time. Jack Downton suggests setting reasonable targets. For example: aim to meet four or five people at a seminar. This is a rule of thumb we at The Works agree with.
Plan your approach: Once you’ve identified the people you would like to speak to, plan your introduction. If they’re huddled in a group already engaged in conversation, leave it until later and try someone else. Look out for key physical signs, like those who aren’t facing each other and look receptive to welcoming others. Or engage the ‘ring-leader’, the person who seems to be leading the conversation, and say: ‘May I join you?’ It may seem bold, but making contacts is what everyone is here for, right?
Listening is key: As tempting as it can be to launch into super-sell mode, particularly if you’ve made self-appointed targets, try to resist. Instead, listen to the conversation and, (like elementary media training) respond accordingly. Asking some questions or try to establish a business link before introducing your own RELEVANT agenda or opinion.
Exit etiquette: Professional networking is a bit like speed dating; first impressions count. But if your date isn’t a fruitful one, move on - politely. Even if you’ve made a great connection, don’t be tempted to anchor to this safe harbour for the rest of the session. Obtain a business card, explain you’d like to develop the relationship following the event but need to chat to a few more people. Everyone understands!
The morning after: It’s accepted practice that you should follow up with new contacts within 48 hours. Ensure that your dialogue will be mutually beneficial, perhaps asking for advice, sending a link relevant to the topic you were discussing or suggesting a further one-to-one meeting. E-mail, either directly or via LinkedIn, is fine as long as the approach is targeted and personal.