For most of us in the corporate world, attending events is important for both personal and professional growth. Depending on their nature, events allows us to meet people within and outside of our industry, become aware of new developments and trends and build networks. But networking requires effort, and while some people are able to network at events almost effortlessly, others have a really hard time of it. For the former category, events are networking opportunities to look forward to; for the others, attending events is probably on par with public speaking (or perhaps a root canal).
If you are in the latter category, there’s good news: everyone can boost their networking abilities. Personal charm helps, but is not enough. And no, networking is not about collecting the highest number of business cards! The rest of this post shares some tried and tested ways in which you can become a better networker.
Which events to attend: Your journey to becoming a more effective networker begins with you choosing the right events to attend. That means events where there are likely to be people who share similar interests to yours. Shared interests can help break the ice and be the focus of your conversations. Also, because you are passionate about the topic, you will likely have lots of information to share and talk about.
Sometimes, you may end up having to attend events that are outside your immediate areas of interest. But rather than look at them as a nuisance or a waste of time, look for how you can benefit. After all, you never know who all you might meet and how these people may be useful contacts to have in the days ahead.
But being a good networker needs a lot more than just deciding which events to attend or showing up there.
Personal elevator pitch: When we are looking to start a conversation with a stranger, it is important that we grab the other person’s attention so they want to know more about us and will engage in a conversation. It’s also important that this happens in the first 15 seconds of meeting that person. This may sound like common sense but think about how most of us usually introduce ourselves. As we shake hands, we tell people our name, designation and the name of the company we work for. Unless the company we work for or our designation instantly triggers the other person’s interest (“I was hoping to meet someone from ABC company” or “I’ve always wanted to meet a Chief Digital Officer… what exactly do you do?”), we will probably end up as one of the numerous business cards the other person collects through the day.
That is why we need a powerful personal elevator pitch that we consistently deliver with panache. In simple words, a personal elevator pitch is a short phrase or a sentence that piques the other person’s curiosity enough to say “That sounds interesting…. tell me more”. Remember that your elevator pitch is not about your designation. Brevity is the key, as is the confidence in your voice as you deliver it. Write down all your elevator pitch ideas on a sheet of paper. Say each one out loud till you find one that is just right. Once you freeze your personal elevator pitch, practice it enough so you internalise it and can deliver it smoothly at will. Run it past close friends and family to help you fine-tune it.
Formulate a networking strategy: Selecting the right events and a sharp elevator pitch alone also won’t cut it. You need to figure out who all you should try and connect with at each event. If you know who might attend, draw up a list of people you aim to meet. Categorize them as “vital”, “essential” and “desirable”. Based on the nature/format of the event, develop a networking strategy based on your answers to questions such as the following:
- Who all do I want to meet and in what priority?
- What do I want to achieve from my networking conversations? Therefore, what do I need to say to them? (Remember that you may need to use slightly different personal elevator pitches or how you build on the opening it creates).
- Having met the people you want to and exchanged business cards, what else can I do? (Tell them you will send them an email or LinkedIn invitation, promise to send them an article you think they might find useful, send them information about a solution your company offers etc.)
AT THE EVENT
Ultimately, the effectiveness of your networking depends on how well you implement your strategies and plans. After all, the best laid plans of men and mice…
Here are some tips that have helped me get more out of my networking bucks:
- Smile! Make an effort to convey that you are happy to meet people. Networking is not about collecting business cards. A smiling visage also signals to other people that you are approachable and possibly a pleasant person to talk with. A genuine smile is key- people easily see through artificial, insincere smiles.
- When exchanging cards, add extra contact information (like a personal mobile number/email) that the recipient may appreciate. You could even add some extra information such as a possible common area of interest.
- Make notes about the person you met on his/her business card; this is useful information for your follow-up with them.
- If the other person says s/he is out of cards, offer to save his number and email address on your phone. And do tell him/her that you will be sending them an email. This serves as “permission”.
- In your conversations, use the other person’s name to create a certain level of familiarity. Initially, it will seem contrived or artificial, but persevere- it will help when you reach out of them later. But be sensitive to culture- in some situations, people may expect to be addressed s “Mr. ABC” or “Ms. XYZ”.
- Be watchful of your body language. Do use cues that signal attentive listening (a tilted head), comprehension (nodding) etc. Respect personal space. If the event is outside your home country or is expected to attract international delegates, be sensitive to cultural differences.
AFTER THE EVENT
Networking is a continuous process aimed at building/nurturing relationships. It does not end with you shaking hands and collecting business cards. Here are some suggestions for what you can do after you meet someone at an event:
- Send an email (ideally within 24 hours) saying that you enjoyed meeting the person and look forward to staying in touch. Most people meet so many other people at events that connecting early helps you stand out from the crowd. If, during your conversation at the event, you promised some information or action, refer to it and how you intend to deliver. If you had agreed that you would meet up, use this email to explore possible dates. The key is to personalize the message. It is helpful to include an email signature that includes links to your company’s website and perhaps your LinkedIn profile as well.
- You should also send an invitation to connect on LinkedIn, which is a powerful professional/business networking tool. It allows people to read about you and find out who else you know (some of your contacts may be of value to them). If you post articles on LinkedIn, they can even get a good idea of your expertise and points of view. But do remember to refer to where you met to jog his/her memory. Again, personalization is important to help your message stand out by making it easy for the recipient to see you as a “valuable” contact.
- It is common for people to use both an email and LinkedIn. Irrespective of which option you choose, make sure your communication is appropriate- friendly but professional. A simple test is to ask yourself if you would like to receive such a message from someone and if yes, what kind of response it might elicit from you.
- You may have a priority list, but you may also end up exchanging cards with people not on your list. As a matter of courtesy, do send an initial mail to everyone you met- provided you had an interesting conversation (besides, you never know where this person may move to in the future).
- If you don’t hear back from the person you have emailed, wait for a week or so before sending a reminder. Remember that the other person may be busy and not have had the time to catch up with the large number of emails in their inbox.
- If someone you met sent you an email first, do reply in a timely manner. Keep your response brief- but include “hooks” such as meeting up, connecting on LinkedIn etc.
Happy networking! Do write in to let us know if these tips helped. We’d also love to hear about any other networking practices you have evolved for yourself that work really well for you.