Often, people will attend a conference or event for the networking opportunities, as much as the speakers or exhibitions which are on offer. It’s an opportunity to meet like-minded individuals within the same or similar professions or areas of interest. This can lead to new knowledge, an exchange of ideas, or useful contacts for future reference.
The informal business networking that takes place at conferences can help to further your career or grow your business. It can even lead to some lifelong friendships forming, which extend beyond your professional life.
However, networking is not a skill that comes naturally to everybody, and some of us find the prospect daunting. The good news is, it is a skill which can be learnt and improved on. Here are some ways you can go about it.
Define your goals first
If you take some time to work out why you are attending the event and what you want to get out of it first, this will make it easier for you to focus on what you want to hear about and talk about.
Remember that having something to offer is just as important as asking, so think about your knowledge, skills, and ideas, and prepare a way of talking about them which is concise but engaging.
Have a higher purpose
Even if you are on the hunt for a new job role, keep sight of higher motivations, such as learning about the new developments in your field. This will take you out of yourself, and make you more human and interesting to others. If people sense that you are just trying to get something from them to benefit yourself, it can be off-putting.
Even if you don’t meet exactly the right people straight away, it increases the likelihood that someone will introduce you to a valuable contact at some point.
Work on your active listening skills
Good networking is about listening carefully as well as talking. Active listening skills not only help you retain and comprehend what is being said to you more easily, but they also establish trust and confidence in the speaker. Allow the speaker to finish their sentences without interruption, and pause to formulate your answer properly before you reply.
Be aware of the speaker’s body language, and offer encouraging cues with appropriate eye contact, and the occasional nod or smile. If you have not clearly understood something they said, don’t be afraid to ask for a clarification. You could do this by paraphrasing what you think their meaning is, to prompt a response.
Follow up on your most promising connections
Meeting someone once isn’t usually enough to form a lasting relationship. Make sure you exchange contact details with the most interesting people you meet. Even if they cannot directly further your career, fostering relationships with likeminded people improves your confidence and social wellbeing, which can only be a positive thing.
Practice networking at every opportunity
Finally, remember that you can practice networking anywhere, such as online, in the pub, or in the office. Work on your goals and your listening skills, and your self-confidence will soon blossom.
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