Everyone knows the best deals are cracked at cocktail hour and useful intel is passed around during smoke breaks, but maneuvering the intricate web of networking isn’t easy, especially for women professionals. Our time-tested tips will help you master the art of socializing to make it work for you.
It’s a competitive world out there and just being qualified or hardworking doesn’t cut it anymore. Social media might have brought the world closer, but it’s also ensured that you’re only as valuable as your network. From LinkedIn to Slack, even professional mediums rely on your or your friends’ connections to drive your career further, which means networking should be the number one tool in your arsenal. Not everyone is a confident social butterfly though and sometimes the idea of approaching a room full of strangers can be daunting, but with a few basic tweaks, you can go from the shy woman at the corner to the talk of the (networking) town.
Preparation Is The Key
Networking events and conferences have become common, but whether the invitation says black-tie or smart casual, rather than fussing over your attire, start by honing down on the guest list. Who is invited and who will be there will dictate if it’s worth your time. Make friends with Event Organisers, PR Agents, and Marketing Managers because they know exactly who’ll turn up. This intel combined with the power of social media will help you figure which attendees you’ve already met and which of them could be prospective clients, after which use the six degrees of separation rule. Maybe that annoying HR personnel from your last job is coming with her current boss – the bigshot CEO you’ve been trying to meet for months – in which case that’s the man you need to have a face-to-face with, so be prepared.
Be Friendly, Not Overzealous
There’s nothing more off-putting than someone you’ve just met behaving like they’ve known you for decades after a few sentences or people who hijack a conversation. The most successful networkers are good at listening to others. Smile naturally, look people straight in the eye, repeat their name (this is also a good way to ensure you remember them for later reference)and have a genuine discussion. Alternatively, don’t wait for anyone to approach you. Just walk up to a person or a group and ask to join in by introducing yourself, but listen intently before you start contributing. As women, we are great at finding the right connections through conversation, so ask questions like you are interviewing people for a story and that will help you in the long run.
Don’t Just Pitch, Have A Conversation
Pitch meetings are different to networking events, so don’t just go in and start selling yourself or your business. Start light and keep the conversation easy before you know who can be an asset for your career goals.Circulate around the room and talk to as many people as possible, but instead of just pitching, talk passionately about why you do what you do. You’ll speak from the heart, which will get other people to open up about their passions and make for a memorable exchange. If a potential client does ask you about your work or company, be ready with info on a recent milestone or big project you’ve pulled off. Most importantly, always be gracious and humble!
Stay Sharp and Follow Up
Once you’ve had two glasses of wine – which should be the limit at a networking event – and met some friendly folks, one might make the mistake of blurring the line between work contacts and actual friends, which can be perceived as unprofessional. Make friends by all means, but remember to keep personal affiliations aside.The most essential thing is to remember those you’ve already met and leverage that connection, so while collecting business cards like a competitive sport is great, use apps on your smartphone that read business cards and syncs them with your contacts to ensure you don’t forget someone. Last but not least, if you've had a great conversation with someone, get in touch with them the next day with a simple “It was great to meet you. Let’s do this again…” so they can initiate the next chat and complete the loop.
By the time you finish reading this piece, you would’ve already taken a giant step towards acing the complex world of networking. Now get started on scoring those invites!