Effective Networking: 5 Practical Tips For Great Results
Networking at events and conferences is a tried and tested method for industry professionals to meet with like minded people in their field and exchange useful knowledge. Networking is not just for established professionals either; it can be a way into an industry for jobseekers and students, or for those setting out in a new field and looking to make useful contacts.
Despite the recent surge in online communication tools, there are some aspects of in-person networking that can never be replaced, such as the serendipity of being in the right place at the right time, and building a genuine rapport based on gestures and facial expressions as well as what you are actually saying.
Therefore it is well worth investing in attending conferences, exhibitions, trade shows, or dedicated networking events in your professional field or the one that you hope to enter. Networking is a skill that comes with experience, but there are useful points to bear in mind that can help you make the most of the opportunity.
Research the other attendees
Most events will publicise the guest list in advance in their marketing campaign on social media or their website. Take a look at who will be attending the event and make a list of the most relevant businesses or individuals that you would like to make contact with. This will help you to identify the people you want to meet more easily on the day.
Think about what you want to ask and talk about
To help the process go smoothly, it is useful to work out what you want to get out of the event beforehand, and also what you have to offer the other attendees. This will be easier if you prepare some topics that you can use as a conversation starter.
For example, if you want to find out about new trends and developments in your field, research the relevant subjects in the news and trade journals so that you can keep up with and contribute to the discussions taking place.
Work on your active listening skills
How you listen is just as important as what you say. If you are nervous, it can be easy to talk too much yourself and not really take in what others are saying. However, active listening is a skill that anyone can learn. Pay attention to your non-verbal body language as you engage in conversation, with frequent eye contact and a relaxed and confident posture.
Pause before you reply to ensure that you have fully comprehended what is being said, and to reflect on your response. If necessary, repeat a point to clarify or confirm their meaning. This can lead to better outcomes than simply saying the first thing that comes to mind.
Listen as much as you talk, but there’s no need to be overly humble. It is possible to talk about your own achievements if you focus on how they made a difference to your business or field of work, rather than to try and make yourself sound important and boastful.
Talk to a wide range of people
While it may be tempting to focus on the people or groups that you have most in common with, reaching out beyond your comfort zone can lead to interesting conversations and new perspectives on an issue that you may not have considered before.
This can be difficult if you are not a natural social butterfly, but simply asking someone an open ended question such as which speaker they have enjoyed the most can be very effective.
If you are unsure how to approach a group of people who are already engaged in conversation, avoid simply interrupting them with no respect for what they are saying. Instead, try to catch the drift of the conversation and ‘read the room’ before making a friendly introduction and an appropriate contribution.
Remember to exit a conversation well
It’s just as important to be able to leave a conversation elegantly and on a positive note. Conferences are about meeting a range of people, so even if someone is genuinely fascinating and full of useful information, do not monopolise them for too long. Instead, offer your business card and ask if they would like to arrange a meeting at a future date.
View each contact as the start of a potential long-term working relationship that can be followed up at a later date rather than a passing encounter. The follow ups and resulting relationships are just as important as the networking, so always keep this goal in mind.
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