Networking…yuck! If you’re anything like me this word fills you with dread. The thought of attending an afternoon of organised fun talking to strangers about your job and theirs just sounds painful; no thank you.
I used to think networking was a shameless ‘what can I get from you’ exercise which frankly just makes me uncomfortable. Most of the time I feel like a novice in my job and I certainly don’t contribute much expertise to a conversation when under pressure.
But networking needn’t be scary. It can be as simple as starting with those you know. Linkedin is a prime example of this. People don’t setup a Linkedin profile and become best friends with the CEO of some corporate giant overnight. By starting small, adding friends, colleagues (past and present), friends of friends, people you meet at work events, training, conferences, award ceremonies etc., you’ll be surprised how wide your network stretches before long.
There are, however, people who thrive at face-to-face networking, my boss being one of them. He seems to love all that smiles-and-sandwiches malarkey. Thankfully, there are things you can do to make the experience worthwhile and dare I say it enjoyable. Consider these:
- You’re not alone – if you’re lucky there’ll be a couple of people you know already at the networking event. So, if the conversation you just had fell flat on its face make a bee-line for someone you know and talk to them for a while, like a pit-stop, while you gather your thoughts before speaking to the next person.
- Be yourself – people can see through fakery. Have confidence that you have been invited because there are people interested in what you do and there are people who are of interest to you. Relax. Don’t try and perform.
- Include others in your conversation – there’s a wonderful scene in Bridget Jones’ Diary that has helped me in these situations. The advice Bridget receives from a friend is ‘introduce people with thoughtful details’ eg. This is “Tony” – Tony works in PR and specialises in Social Media.
- Be sincere and listen – if you ask someone a question, about their job or workplace or career history, actually listen to the answer. In fact I would go so far as to say that you should only ask questions if you are actually interested in the answer, otherwise you’ll just glaze over when people reply.
- Avoid cherry tomatoes! – I know food/drink can be a good ice-breaker and sure it gives you something to do with your hands rather than swinging them by your sides like an ape, but personally I don’t find a standing, sandwich buffet conducive to conversation. Top tip: time it right, don’t ask someone a question when they’ve just taken a bite of a bagel and avoid foods that drip like cherry tomatoes and pineapple!