It needn’t be an onerous task. Paul Russell, Managing Director of luxury training company Luxury Academy offers five practical strategies to help event professionals become better networkers.
You have a networking event to attend in which you will be expected to engage with potential clients. How do you feel? Confident and excited at the prospect of meeting new people who could become new clients, or nervous and a little unsure of how successful you will be? For many, their response to networking is the latter. Even quite senior executives can find the prospect of networking worrying or somehow distasteful.
Yet, if there is a secret to being a better networker, it is this: present yourself well. Presenting yourself well is about more than purely dressing for the occasion, it is everything to do with how you appear and behave which in turn impacts upon how you are perceived by others. What you say, how you say it, your mannerisms, deportment and your ability to strike up a conversation and make small talk are all as important as what you wear. Each of these aspects combine to create positive perceptions, and it is these positive perceptions that will help you to engage with others and to form a favourable impression in the limited time available.
The root of unease around networking is often expectation. You imagine you are expected to return home from a networking event with a full order book for the next year. Human relationships don’t work like that, and business relationships certainly don’t. The first stage is really about getting to know that new potential business contact, finding out more about their business and engaging with them. No-one wants to feel like they’re being sold to, and a networker who is pushy is far less likely to be successful than a networker who focuses on the individual. When you remove this self-imposed pressure, it can help you to approach networking in a more relaxed frame of mind.
How much preparation do you need to undertake for a networking event? Does it mean swotting-up on reams of facts and figures about your company to impress others? The best preparation you can do for a networking event is to have some general topics of conversation ready. Chances are that about 20% of conversation will be about what you do and where you work, and the rest will be more general chit chat- industry news, the latest Netflix series, what the weather is going to do at the weekend. Assuming you can talk about your company and what it does without any further preparation, the best thing you can do before an event is read an industry news site and a newspaper.
The most daunting part of a networking event is stepping into the room, especially if it’s full of groups already engaged in conversation. Many networking events will have a host who will greet you and introduce you to others – if not, then search out the refreshments stand to give you an opportunity to get your bearings. You might spot the organiser on the way, but if not, grab a glass of water as a ‘prop’ (you will feel more comfortable with something in your hands) and find a group to approach. At a networking event, to introduce yourself to a new group would be quite normal.
Anchor, Reveal and Encourage
As adults, there is this assumption that we’ve completed our ‘social training’ and as such we are competent and confident in social situations. For many people this simply isn’t true and they feel wildly uncomfortable making conversation with relative strangers. They worry about how to initiate conversation, what to say and how to keep the conversation going. In many cases, they dislike the thought of it so much that they avoid it entirely. But in a networking situation, small talk is unavoidable.
One of the techniques we teach at Virtual Finishing School to enable people to become better at making small talk is ARE, Anchor, Reveal and Encourage. First you anchor the conversation with something that establishes common ground like how busy (or not) the networking event is. Then you reveal something to help you develop a bond, perhaps it’s that you have never attended that (or any!) networking group before, and finally you encourage the other person to talk by asking about them. It’s a simple system, but extremely effective at starting and developing conversations.
While leaving the networking event with multiple confirmed orders isn’t your goal, remembering others and being remembered is. A good technique for remembering others’ names is to ask their name early on and use their name three times.
The most important way of making someone remember you comes in how you make them feel by taking the time to ask about them, listening and showing a real interest in what they do – even if they are not a potential client.
When you think of networking as a chance to get to know some new people, and put the requisite effort into your own behaviour, then your chances of success are infinitely greater.