It’s been quite a year (and 9 months) since Covid sent most of us home to work remotely. Now, it’s almost back to reality; to meetings, parties, events, and in-person gatherings. That means networking, and not to put too fine a point on it, but most of us might appreciate some tips and reminders about how to make the most of these events after so much time spent in our home offices.
It always helps me to remember this before approaching an event: regardless of job title, level, years of experience, networking is just about you as a person meeting another person. If you approach it in a way that respects the other person’s time and space, there’s no reason for it not to be a positive interaction. Here are a few tips to ease the transition:
First things first – Smile! This seems obvious, but it will relax you, and it will also make you more approachable.
Read the room. In fact, before you even get to the room, know what you are trying to get out of a networking session. When you get to the event, take a moment to assess how to achieve it that goal. If you see someone you know talking to a group of people you would like to meet, that may be a better way to network than gravitating to only people you know, even if that feels more comfortable. If you see someone standing alone, they would probably appreciate someone saying hello.
Be yourself. Yes, maybe a bit of a more polished and shinier version, but don’t try to be someone completely different. You will make more genuine connections by showing you are confident in who you are. Also, not everyone has the same networking style, and that’s okay. The person next to you may be a business card dealing machine, and know everyone’s name, department, last 3 employers and has researched every speech they ever gave. If that’s not you, that’s fine. It’s better to be true to yourself, as one goal of networking is that you will have future contact with some of the people you meet, and it’s too exhausting to try to take on (and continue taking on) a style or persona that just isn’t you.
Listen. Listen as much as you talk. Most people like to talk about themselves, and asking questions gives them the opportunity to share. Make sure you are asking questions you are interested in knowing the answer to, as you are more apt to remember that and also to be able to refer to it in future interactions with that person.
Don’t apologize for approaching someone. Sorry implies something negative will follow. It shows initiative, drive, and confidence to introduce yourself to someone you don’t know. In fact, that person may not be comfortable approaching people and may appreciate the effort. Start with something positive, even just a friendly hello, rather than sorry.
Have an exit strategy. Regardless how much you are enjoying a conversation, if your goal is to meet people, you will have to move on at some point. Think ahead of time of things you can say to leave a conversation politely (I’m going to grab a glass of water, I need to make a quick call, have to say hello to my boss) but always say something positive as you leave, like “very nice chatting with you”. Which leads us to…
Bring your Business Cards. Don’t hesitate to pass them out – that’s what they are for (okay, and the free raffles). When you receive a business card, remember to look at it and show interest before putting it away. Not only will the other person appreciate that, but it will give you a visual reminder of the person when you look at the card later. If there isn’t a natural time within the conversation to pass it along, then when you leave is a great time to hand it over. If appropriate, follow up with a note after the meeting.
In the words of Wayne Gretzky, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take”. Hopefully some of these ideas help you take and make the shot when it comes to networking. Good luck out there!
Marianne Westphal, Partner at DW Simpson