Having worked in sales for a number of years, there is no doubt that a face-to-face connection is the best way to make an impression and build relationships with potential partners, suppliers, customers and friends. As we welcome back the conference, although we’re not totally done with Zoom networking sessions, here are some tips to networking, whether virtually or in-person, that can help you feel more confident to networking with total strangers.
Have an introduction – and a conversation opener at the ready
It seems simple, and obvious, but you can suddenly feel overwhelmed when meeting new people that your mind can go blank and you may not be sure on where to start. Have a couple of talking points at the ready for when you’re meeting someone for the first time. Practise with friends, your partner or even in front of the mirror to give you a little more confidence.
- You name (introduce yourself with the name they can call you), the company you work for, and your job title.
- Ask them the same details.
- If you’re checking out their stand: ask them to tell you about their products/services and show a keen interest and understanding.
- Find something you can relate to whether its industry experience, earlier conversations, or experience with the event you’re attending.
All of these will help to make the conversation flow and for you to build a connection.
Step out of your comfort zone
There is no doubt that it is a daunting experience, but everyone has felt that way at some point so it’s not an alien feeling to most people. Even the most seasoned networkers get butterflies before an event or before meeting that first person of the day. The best way to get over it though is just to get out there and network over and over again. I’d recommend attending various events to help build up your confidence, such as small talks with networking sessions, conferences, and even large-scale exhibitions.
Do your research
Before attending any event, its worth spending a few hours looking at the event and who will be talking, exhibiting, and potentially attending (sometimes it shows up on Eventbrite, for example). Get a feel for the people you want to be speaking to, the subjects on discussion, and even about the products and services being showcased and how this may fit into your organisation/networking goal.
When it comes to the subject of the event, if you only have a little knowledge, experience, or interest in it, it’ll be very valuable to spend some time conducting research on it so that you have conversational points you can draw on during discussions with attendees.
This will help to give you more confidence when speaking to other people at the event.
Make sure your social profiles & settings are up to date
The whole point of networking is to build connections and purvey a professional profile. In a digital world, that’ll likely mean Google searches and LinkedIn connections. With this in mind, you’ll want to ensure that your LinkedIn profile is up to date; detailing all relevant experience, ensuring your connections are up to date and that you’ve got a strong list of skills and references, if you can. Additionally, you may want to do a quick Google search to see what other results may come up- if your Facebook or Twitter accounts are easily found, you may well have a public profile and as such your business contacts may see content that may not convey the professional you’re trying to be. Either adapt the settings on your profile or review and delete any content you don’t want seen.
Keep in touch
Following on from the above, you want to ensure that you build a connection with those you meet and are of interest to your network and business. We’d recommend:
- Dropping them an email following the event to thank them for the time and provide any additional reference material promised (brochures, web links, portfolios etc.).
- Make a connection through LinkedIn.
- Be sure to check in on LinkedIn from time to time and engage with them and the content they share.
- Follow up with a call on an agreed date/timescale.
Always be presentable and engaging
First impressions count so be sure you’re dressed appropriately. Either go by the tone of the event/outline of the dress code (you can also look to social for images of previous events to get an idea of what delegates wear) or go dressed in business casual (generally acceptable now). Also be sure to carry any business cards with you or something that allows you to share your contact information with those you meet.
You’re likely to meet people that, at the time, may not have a suitable connection to your organisation or the goals you’re trying to achieve. However, you never know when a connection could turn into a business opportunity. As such, treat everyone you meet with respect, kindness and be attentive. Listen to what they’re telling you and engage with appropriately. Only exit a conversation when it is appropriate to do so.
As we head back into the world of meeting people face-to-face, it’ll be a daunting experience for all. As such, there’s never been a better time to give networking a go. We hope these tips prove helpful!