When talking / writing about networking events we are usually very focussed on the formal part of the meeting – especially the one minute introductions – however the Open Networking sessions are just as important.
I have been networking seriously for eleven years now and when I first started the Open Networking sessions were seriously scary – what to say and who to talk to – but now I know no fear! After all everyone is there to meet other people.
So here are some tips which I have learnt (sometimes painfully!) over the years.
1. On arrival head for the refreshments – there is always a conversation to be had there – e.g. which cakes are the best, asking how to get the water out of the hot water dispensers (I can never get this right!) etc.
2. Conversation openers do not have to be original: “Have you been to this networking group before?”, “Gosh isn’t the traffic / weather awful today” or a simple introduction: “Hi I’m Mel from The Magazine Connection, I don’t think we’ve met before”, all work very well.
3. It does not matter if you recognise someone but cannot remember their name – just say so – we have all been in this situation.
4. The first time you meet someone and they ask what you do keep it very brief, never a sales pitch – and always remember to ask about their business too.
5. Business networking itself is a really great topic for a conversation with someone you have just met – which other groups do they attend / recommend? Why do they like them? When / where do they meet? Which formats do they prefer?
6. Do not be afraid to move on: “It’s been lovely talking to you but I think we had better both move on and meet some other people” – it’s what you are there for.
7. So, you move on but everyone is in little huddles all deep in conversation. Usually going to join a larger group of people is easiest and if you are in that group and see that someone is wanting to join you welcome them with a smile and bring them into the conversation.
8. Sometimes the person you really need to speak to is deep in conversation with one other person. Most advice on this will tell you not to approach them but at a networking event where time is limited and you don’t want to leave without speaking to them then I think it is fine to interrupt briefly and say: “Sorry to interrupt but please can I have a word with xxx when you have finished your conversation.”
9. Never, and I do mean never, just go around everyone giving out your business card.
10. Networking is about meeting new people and establishing better relationships with people you already know, so try and speak to people from both categories.
11. Always focus on how you can help the person you are speaking to, so be generous with your advice, share your knowledge and experience.
… and above all smile – networking is great fun!