Networking for impact

The room is big, the room is full of people and the canapés are being handed round. There are you – alone with glass in hand and not a person you know in sight. Your heart sinks south.

Well, at least the waiting staff smile at you.

“Go network,” chirped the convivial host with a smile that would shame the Cheshire cat – a suggestion adding to a sinking feeling into a bottomless pit of horror.

We have all been there. The one when you just want to curl up into the foetal position and hide. But you can’t. Networking has been with us since we started communicating. People work with people they know, like and – key word here – trust. They network for business leads, to get a job, change careers or find new staff.

Meeting and greeting our fellow colleagues does not need to be like this – akin to the stuff of nightmares. Human interaction – notwithstanding the advance of day-to-day screen life – is the bedrock of relationships. Yes, we form impressions of others by the way they write an email or sound on the phone. But this only a snapshot or a hint – often misleading as to what we really think of them.

How many times have you gone on to meet someone only to find out that you have done a 360-degree turnaround on your initial view. And that can so often be from a negative to a positive view.

When professionals want to get business, they get out and network. We choose to work with people we like and we won’t know that until we have – as they say – seen the whites of their eyes. Chemistry still rules supreme and you can’t get a handle on that through the screen on your laptop or tablet.

So what can we do to take the sting out of this? How can we muster up the confidence to crawl out from underneath a stone? Like all things in life the answer is not rocket science but a well used mantra from the scouting movement – be prepared.

Armed with some pertinent preparation, planning and mental realignment, this can turn out to be your best business night yet. Here follows some useful pointers:

The guest list

Check off the guest list beforehand and work out who you really want to meet. Check their details via LinkedIn to see what you have to offer them, whether there is any common ground in terms of networks, geography or shared educational institutions.

The goal

Several years ago I was fortunate enough to attend training from the powerful and impressive Judi James, author of The Body Language Bible amongst many other titles. Her words have always stayed with me. Her advice was to have a goal of the number of business cards that you will collect in any one evening and do not leave until you have got them. Nothing like a goal to galvanise us into action! However, goals apart, there is still that essential follow up. Business cards are no use clogging up the wallet. Try and revisit them the next day and follow up with an email or a LinkedIn connection to take the story forward.

Find a working partner

If you are on your own, you probably won’t be only the one. Scan the room quickly and approach the other person you see as a solo act. Introduce yourself to them – you have no idea how relieved they will be. One thing I wish I had discovered much earlier in life is that everyone is just getting through but some people do it with more aplomb than others.

The importance of the name

All of us have done it – especially when a little nervous. We are told the person’s name and then we blank. The all-important recall button fails us. ‘What was your name again’ can sound lame, rude and dismissive. There is a reason why sales people repeat your name – to make you feel good and so they don’t forget. Another way round this one is to discreetly ask your working partner to remind you – preferably out of earshot too.

The initial approach

Another Judi James tips – walk tall, walk proud and walk regally. Stretch your hand out and offer a handshake. This needs testing on colleagues. Go for firm rather than crushing, with eye contact and conviction. A diffident physical approach will produce a diffident response.

Listen don’t broadcast

Ask the person you have introduced yourself to a series of open questions and wait until they have answered before responding. So many times we only wait to speak or jump in to take the conversation back to us – this is broadcasting. Listen to what the person is saying and echo some of the words they are using. Summarise what you think they have said to check you have really heard it. This demonstrates attention and empathy.

When asked what you do, have that elevator pitch polished and to the point and relevant to where you happen to be. So often we get carried away about all the things we do – professional work, freelance work, voluntary work – we can confuse before we inform. Indeed this is another time where preparation counts – sort out the relevant elevator pitch before the evening starts.

Give, don’t just take

Finally, networking is not just about taking the oxygen of attention or a great contact for your organisation. It is a chance for you to give back. Offer to send over that piece of information, a connection that can help solve a business problem, a brilliant supplier that can really help.

Remember that results don’t happen overnight. Have patience, be generous and all will be revealed. Your business group will grow, opportunities will crop up and your confidence will head north rather than sink south.

Coralstone Training provides coaching, either one-to-one or in groups, on soft business skills including networking and pitching.

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