Does meeting new people make you nervous? Do you struggle to find people to talk to and things to say at networking events?
Making new contacts and building relationships is essential in business. While some people can confidently generate interesting discussion with strangers, others are more at ease either alone or with people they know well. For more reserved people, networking can feel anything from uncomfortable to terrifying.
Whatever you feel about networking, here are ways to make it easier and more effective for all involved.
- Go with the right objectives
Each networking function doesn’t need to result in new leads for your business. Relationships are built over time, and it can take many interactions to build rapport and trust. If you’ve been a victim of a sales pitch at a function, I’m sure it didn’t leave a good impression! Attend each event with the intent to simply meet new people and learn more about those you already know.
- Be yourself
To be a good networker you don’t need to be the most outgoing person in the room. It’s okay to start a conversation with “I’m not a natural networker and I find it hard to meet new people at functions. Do you know many people here?”
If you see someone you’ve met previously, go out of your way to say hello and build on the relationship. If your memory fails you could say “I’m sorry, I know we’ve met but I’ll admit I can’t remember where” or “I really enjoyed speaking with you last time, but I’m sorry I’ve forgotten your name”. Then use their name several times in the conversation to ensure it sticks.
- Include others
Gravitate towards people standing on their own, or invite others to join your group. Chances are they are feeling uncomfortable and will welcome your approach.
- Make it interesting
The questions “what do you do?” and “where do you work?” can be predictable. Invite people to share more by asking, “Where did you grow up?” or “What do you do in your down-time?” Conversations flow when people speak about their passions.
Ensure your own introductions are conversation starters. After “Hi, I’m Sam, a building designer at ABC Building Designs” you could add, “I help developers get the most value from their investment by maximising what they can build on their land”.
- Connect others
Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point talks about natural networkers being either Connectors or Information Mavens. Connectors know a lot of people, love to introduce them to each other, and always have a good recommendation for a plumber, architect, solicitor, or hair salon.
Information Mavens share useful information to help others and are well researched on many topics.
If you know a Connector or Information Maven, seek them out at networking events. If they don’t already attend, invite them to come along with you. They’ll ensure you meet new people and learn something new. Observe how they interact with others and model their approach next time.
- Follow Up
After each event, make notes of who you met, where they work, and what they do. Record other details they shared such as their kids’ activities, that they love mountain bike riding, or that they were about to holiday in Fiji. Read your notes before the next event so you have good conversation starters when you see them.
Maintain contact by inviting people you met to connect on LinkedIn. Send an “it was lovely to meet you” message. They may or may not reply, but they’ll appreciate the effort.