Regardless of the seniority of your position, the idea of walking into a room full of strangers fills most people with dread. What if the conversation runs stale? What if no-one wants to engage with you and you are left awkwardly hovering just on the edge of conversations?
Networking events can be a daunting prospect, particularly if you are naturally introverted and without a colleague or contact by your side to support you. Nevertheless, keep in mind the first interaction is always the hardest and by adopting the tips below you will have success mingling with new contacts.
What most people won't tell you is that the secret to effective networking is simple...just be genuinely interested in who you are talking to.
Really focus on that person and listen to what they are saying. Ask insightful questions to demonstrate you are actively listening. Don't be distracted by who is around you, don't look over their shoulder at who you want to talk to next and don't even think about fiddling with your phone. Just focus. It's amazing what you can learn when you really listen. By focusing on the individual and their needs you will be able to add tangible value to their day and leave a positive, lasting first impression.
Here are five top tips to get the most out of networking opportunities:
1. Stay focused on what you want to achieve with your time - always go to an event focused on the outcome you would like to achieve, for example - two new business leads or a meeting with a key note speaker from the event. You would never go to a meeting unprepared or without a goal in mind, so ensure you adopt the same work ethic when networking.
2. Be interested - give the person you are talking to your full attention. Be curious.
3. Be inviting - allowing other people to join the conversation puts less pressure on you, both in terms of having to keep the conversation flowing, and the need to stay. By inviting others to join, you have more time to listen to the conversation and then add insights where necessary or applicable. You can also more easily exit the conversation when the time comes.
4. Know when to move on - stay with someone long enough to make sure you leave a positive impression by really focusing on them, but always be sure to move on so you don't monopolise their time. Leave the contact on a hook so they want to know more about you or your business.
5. Do not forget your call to action - closing is a natural way of moving on and the best way of closing is a genuine offer of help. Introduce them to useful connections, recommend them to your network, offer help and suggestions, and send potential business contacts their way. Be sincere, care about their needs and don't expect anything in return - this will truly set you apart.
Beyond these five steps, be sure to keep your network current - social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter make it so easy to manage your contacts and stay in touch.
For more networking tips view a recent TED talk (below) and keep in mind Dale Carnegie's advice: "To be interesting, be interested."
Some people find networking comes naturally to them, but with time and practice, everyone can network with ease. What successful networking all comes down to is to being a well-prepared and thoughtful individual who is genuinely interested in getting to know other people. Just remember to make the person you are talking to feel like the most important and special person in that room.
Best of luck,