In the early days of my career, the thought of going to business networking events left me anxious. The thought of me being stood in a corner sipping tea while everyone else mingled. But with a bit of practise and some helpful tips from friends I started to enjoy the time off work, the free food and of course meeting new people. I think most people have a fear of networking and simply knowing a few of these tips could really steady the nerves.
The key to networking is conversation, my dad always tells me, people love to speak. This is my number one tip, focus on the person I am speaking to rather than myself. You will learn a lot more by listening to other people than speaking yourself. The key is asking open questions, for example “What area of engineering does your firm specialise in?” is a lot better than “Your firm specialises in Mechanical Engineering, right?” Asking an open question allows a conversation while closed questions will get single word responses.
When scanning the room for someone to speak to, don’t be put off if you don’t see any familiar faces. Look out for other people standing on their own, one thing you can be sure of, they will be glad to speak to you. It can be awkward to start up a conversation with someone you don’t know but at the end of the day that’s why you are here. Its a good idea to come prepared with some opening lines, nothing cheesy but it will help with your nerves to feel prepared. If there is no one alone, don’t be tempted to interrupt two people. Look out for an awkward group of three people and speak to the person who looks to be outside the conversation.
Finally, remember 99% of the people in the room are there to network, the chances of them not wanting to speak to you are slim. Confidence is key and preparation lead to confidence so rehearse a few questions and get into the right frame of mind before the event. Don’t rush into the event 2 hours late looking like you have better places to be, and watch out for body language both your own and others.