The Three Stages of Networking
In my recent blog post “Should we replace the word “Networking”? I spoke about the love/hate relationship that business owners have with networking.
My survey results indicated that although 68% recognised the importance of networking for their business, attendance at networking events is relatively low. I attended a networking talk by Kingsley Aikins recently. He spoke about how “Life is a game of inches” and networking can help to give you the edge, push things in your direction. Yet, in my survey, 65% of respondents attend 2 networking events or fewer per month.
There are a variety of reasons for this, including fear of public speaking and the 60 second pitch. For many, the anxiety of entering a room full of strangers is enough to keep them away. At my Networking Masterclass on behalf of Kildare Local Enterprise Office for National Women’s Enterprise Day in October, I shared some tips for the Three Stages of Networking.
Before the Event
A little preparation in advance could help. If you have been invited by someone to attend, ask about the format of the meeting, who might be there etc so that you know what to expect.
If you’re going along for the first time to a regular event where you don’t know anyone, maybe contact the organiser to let them know you will be attending and ask about the format. Remember, you’re not gate-crashing a party here, new faces are very welcome at networking events.
Ask if there is going to be an opportunity to deliver a 60 second pitch so that you can be prepared. If you’re not comfortable with small talk, plan some general questions you could ask and how you can keep the conversation flowing.
If it’s a larger event, follow the hashtag in advance, see who is going to be speaking. Maybe research them a little so that you have some material for conversation during breaks.
During the Event
The second stage is the event itself- that walking into the room. Be aware of your body language here. You want to appear warm, friendly and open to conversation. No one is going to try to strike up a conversation with you if are standing arms folded, unsmiling, all the vibes saying “stay away”.
To tell you the truth, I find it easier walking in to a networking event than into a party, because most people at a networking event are open to meeting new people. But joining a group can be tricky, so be aware of the body language of others.
When you enter a room, and don’t know anyone, it might be easier to find the person on their own, approach them, shake hands and introduce yourself. Chances are, they will welcome the chance to talk to someone.
Next is the conversation. As I mentioned, introduce yourself and shake hands. Repeat the other person’s name to try to remember it. Keep conversation general- this is not the time to start handing around your business card, as one survey respondent called it, “drive-by card flinging”. Remember, networking is about building relationships. Business might come later- remember “know, like and trust”.
So, imagine that you have successfully joined a group and engaged in conversation and you have found out about each other’s business. But you can’t spend the entire event with one person. After a few minutes it’s time to move on. How do you exit the conversation?
Keep it simple. This could be the time to exchange business cards and arrange to follow up with a 1-2-1.
Then you join a new group new and repeat the process. Have a goal in mind when you come to a networking event- how many people do you intend to meet?
After the Event
You have spent time, energy and possibly money attending the networking event. So, make it work for you! My survey results showed that 73% of people “always or “usually” follow up after a networking event, with connecting online being the most popular. I try to follow up within a day or two by sending a Linkedin connection request. I personalise it by sending a message with the request. That means that if something from that person pops up in my timeline in a few weeks or months’ time, I can easily track back how I know them. It helps keep the relationship going. You never know where it might lead.
The most effective way to follow up after a networking event is arranging a 1-2-1. That’s the best way to really get to know the other person’s business and talk about yours. And that’s where business owners can really help each other. Maybe it’s by making a referral, maybe it’s by passing on a piece of advice, or a suggestion. It’s all about adding value to the other person building the relationship.
The true value of networking doesn’t come from how many people we can meet but rather how many people we can introduce to others. Simon Sinek