For some the face to face networking event is a fabulous chance to make business connections, get new ideas and inspiration, find support , collaborate and potentially find future business partners.
For others, the face to face nature of networking can seem like a real life nightmare, and for those that fear small talk, introductions and that feeling of first-day nerves, networking events, whilst often a necessity can fill them with dread.
But do not fear - here’s our Startacus with a quick reminder of the basics that will make your networking experience as comfortable and as worthwhile as possible (fingers crossed).
Choose your event carefully Start with choosing the type of event and the type of community that you will gain most from. If you are looking to build local business contacts, a more formal business event, like a local council or chamber of commerce organised event may suit. If you are looking to build up “in the same boat” contacts and a support network, a meetup or local group of mumpreneurs, entrepreneurs, tech professionals, or other specialist meetings may well be the better choice. Researching what is available is easier than you think - just type in your location + meetup via a search engine and most available local events will be highlighted online.
Everyone is in the same boat Well most of you anyway. Of course there are some natural networkers or experienced group members that are very comfortable in both networking and the surroundings of the event itself. However most of you will be in the same boat of being a little nervous of joining what can feel like an established group or circle. Therefore, be put off going altogether because you fear being alone - most networkers will actually feel the same. One way around this is to take a colleague - the advantage of this is that you can feel more comfortable. The disadvantage of this of course may be that you just chat to your ‘friend’ and don’t make any new valuable contacts.
Get there a little early If you get there late - the chances are that groups and circles will have already been formed and there is nothing more off-putting and threatening than walking into a room where people are already chatting and seemingly are pals! However if you get there a little early, whilst you are still walking in alone, you will be one of the first to either be introduced to others, or meet other ‘networkers’ as they enter the room. This can often be a much more comfortable environment to face.
Plan - what are you looking to achieve / get out of it ? Going to a networking event isn’t enough. You need to plan what you want to achieve and think about how you might achieve this prior to the event happening. You could also take some time to see (if the details are available online) who typically goes to this event and hence who you are likely to meet. Having a list of business contacts in your head will help when you meet them in person - not only because it is good for conversation if you know a little about who you are speaking to!
Prepare Dress accordingly (smart/casual or even smart-casual depending on the type of event), take a notepad and pen (that works), business cards to give out (yep - they do sometimes come in handy), and plan what pocket you will hand out your business cards from, and which pocket you will place any business cards you receive into! All of the above are small points - but points that will make you feel more prepared and comfortable when the event kicks off.
What is it you do Sometimes at networking events you literally have 30 seconds to make an impression and connection. So, without emulating Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver - it might be a good idea to practice your mini pitch about who you are and what you do in front of the mirror before you go. Admittedly, talking to yourself can seem a little strange but it’s remarkably easier than face to face with others and this type of preparation and practice will mean you are less likely to stumble and babble on the day.
Take notes Why take a notepad if you are not going to use it. That said, don’t spend the whole time making notes, but use your notepad to record a few points and contacts that it would be worth remembering. This may mean stepping to the side for a minute or popping out to ‘take a comfort break’, and ideally don’t do the note taking while you are chatting - unless you ask the person you are speaking to - it can be rather off putting.
Follow up You've made the notes, got the contact numbers and cards and shaken those hands. Most of this networking is only worthwhile if, after the event you follow it up with an email, follow them on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc and make plans on what you intend to do, need and achieve from your new found friends.
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