Love them or hate them, networking events are a great way to meet people IRL and truly shape friendships for a lifetime – we may be biased, but we know a thing or two about this.
However, not all events were created equal, especially networking events. Long gone are the days of name tags and awkward small talk. It’s time to show up with intention, and make sure you make the most of every opportunity.
Networking is such a dirty word these days, but it’s one of the most important things you can do as a self-employed person. The most successful people in any industry had help from their network to get there, and finding people who can help when you need support takes time, so it’s better to build a good network before you need them.
You can develop amazing relationships online with people you wouldn’t usually interact with, but the ultimate way to build a powerful network is definitely in person.
The most senior and important people rarely spend lots of time online and aren’t likely to walk into your bedroom when you’re working from home, so it’s important to dedicate time to getting out and building these real-world relationships.
In-person relationships are deep, rich, based on shared experience and draw on thousands of non-verbal cues. You can maintain relationships started in person using social media really effectively.
See yourself succeed
Practice your one-line opener. Make it intriguing, cryptic, funny, flippant, powerful. Anything that draws people in.
Being upbeat, confident in your intro is important as it sets the tone for the conversation.
The goal of networking is not to meet as many people as possible, but to identify where there’s mutual interest in developing a relationship as quickly as possible, then share contact details, move on and follow up the next day. Perhaps you’re a great content creator, and a lawyer you meet is looking to start a side hustle Insta account for reviewing free fitness events.
At first, you might not see much need for a lawyer, but once you identify what you need and what you can both offer, the new connection is exciting for you both -even if you don’t help each other immediately.
Natasha Zo, a digital PR specialist for health and wellness, shares in her mindset reset technique: “On the way to the event I need to make sure I’m in the right state of mind to network. If I’m happy, excited and feeling positive about networking, I’m way more likely to walk out with some good personal and professional contacts. Usually, I do a quick visualisation, imagining myself going through an event with ease and making lots of great connections.”
Once I am at an event, I turn my “happy easy state on” (the one I worked on during my visualisation). It helps me to feel easy about approaching people first, not waiting to be approached – Natasha Zo
One of the most important things that you can do at a networking event is to develop personal connections: “don’t just exchange business cards or follow each other on LinkedIn. I suggest that you have a REAL conversation.
Remember something that goes beyond which email client they use or if they prefer Asana to Trello.” Angela Ash from Flow SEO adds “When the time comes and you may want to reach out about a mutual collaboration, you’ll have a better chance of them actually recalling your discussion if you bring up how they mentioned their daughter was turning five, or that they like the Dallas Cowboys.”
The benefits of networking
You never know when you’ll need help or what kind, but if you have a good support network around you they’ll be there when you need them.
When you’re in charge of your own destiny and career as an entrepreneur, every day you’re learning something new.
But a good network can shortcut your time to being successful.
I believe humans are hardwired to help, if they can, so knowing who to ask for help and actually, clearly asking for it (two different things!) can really move the needle to your goals or help you out of a tight spot so you can sleep at night.
Always go in with a plan
Never forget the old saying “fail to plan, plan to fail”. Make sure you do your research and find the best event for YOU in particular, whether it is your industry, attendees, or even demographics.
Now more than ever it is easy to find exactly the event that will work for you: “Go to networking events with a particular aim in mind. Maybe it’s to come away with three new contacts, to practice your elevator pitch or learn one new tip which you’re going to put into action. Go with a purpose” shares Vicky Shilling, wellness industry business coach.
“I usually have more than one project in mind, so it’s easy to find something in common with almost everyone I talk to.” adds Natasha Zo “If I have none of my projects in mind, I think if this contact can be useful to any of my friends and colleges, exchange contacts and act as a connector.”
When it comes to networking, pay it forward, and don’t outstay your welcome.
Paying forward means making intros and connections for that person even if they haven’t helped you yet. So much good comes from a ‘give first’ attitude. On don’t outstay your welcome, I’d recommend that you make the connection, identify the shared interest and unless you’re getting on like a house on fire then move on.
Another important tip in networking is a fast followup.
If you don’t follow up with a personalised message to your new contact in 24 hours, the networking effort will be lost. I have to really force myself to do this but it really works (or doesn’t if you don’t!)
Feel the fear and do it anyway
Networking events scare more people you’d think, making your heart race, your palms sweat, and your stomach flip. This may feel terrible, but in fact, it is not.
See it as a sign that you are excited about where you are heading, the people you are soon to meet and hopefully good connections you are soon to make.
“Many people say that I seem confident when meeting others, but really, I am slightly always panicking” Bridgette Macilwaine from the Hyper Health Nut confesses “and the way I get through these situations is to breathe slowly, relax your shoulders, stand up tall and be truly interested in what others have to say, instead of nodding along aimlessly, you will be surprised how much you can learn from truly listening to others”
Everyone attending these events is not as 100% confident as you may think, so don’t be scared of them.
They are there to meet people, make connections and probably learn something new, adds Macilwaine: “set your fear aside and just say hi to anyone and everyone, you definitely won’t regret it, and by the end of the event, you will feel fulfilled and empowered!”