The Ultimate Guide to… Successfully Navigating a Networking Event
If you’re more inclined to being a wallflower than working a room - especially one full of strangers - but find yourself going against all your basic instincts and attending a corporate networking event because your boss told you to, or simply because you know it will work wonders for your career, look no further. Here at the Royal Exchange we’ve hosted many networking functions and after observing from afar, we’ve compiled our top 5 tips for elevating your industry social status from pariah to butterfly.
1. Take the plunge
You know that old chestnut, “practice makes perfect”? Well it tends to turn out true. Having a good time at a networking event starts with confidence, and if it’s something you don’t already possess, it’s definitely something you can build over time. RSVP to as many networking events as you think you can handle and start small. You don’t have to go full social butterfly your first go, just show your face and add a few contacts to the memory bank so that next time you’re flying solo you’ll have acquaintances to help you through the night. And remember, everyone else is there to network too - they want to talk to you!
2. Don’t go straight in with the hard sell
Yes, when it comes down to it, everyone in the room is there to get themselves, their brand, or their product out there, but jumping straight in is going to throw people off. Ease yourself in with the small talk - again something where practice makes perfect - and ask them about themselves, try to find some common ground that doesn’t involve work whether that be a Netflix series you both like or whether they’ve tried the food at the new restaurant round the corner from the event venue.
3. A little Googling goes a long way
Once you’ve built up a friendly rapport, you can ease into the businesschat with the latest news on products, trends and developments in the industry, which - from following our advice - you researched earlier. At the end of the day, everyone in the room is interested in the same thing - whatever it is the event is being hosted for, and making mutually beneficial connections, so don’t be afraid to get into relevant discussions.
4. Dutch courage is not the answer!
Always present yourself well, there will be a lot of first impressions made at networking events, so dress for the occasion (smart-casual is the new norm), have your business cards and any marketing collateral to hand, and don’t quell your nerves by downing five glasses of chardonnay. That’s not to say you shouldn’t take advantage of the freebies, but as tempting as it is, you’ll come across more professionally if you stick to a couple of glasses and some canapés (you’ll also take away more from the night if you actually remember it).
5. It’s not over yet
Hopefully by this point you will have made it back to the sweet embrace of your couch at home with more than a few new business cards, but the hard work is not done yet. In fact this is only the beginning of many professional relationships that will only blossom if you keep those connections going. Don’t leave it too long before you send a follow up email, add them on LinkedIn, or if you think this could go even further, organising a coffee catch up or lunch meeting. There’s no point making it out of the social anxiety vacuum alive, to get sucked straight back in again when you leave, so keep up the networking and don’t let all your hard work go to waste!