THE NO-NO’S OF NETWORKING
Nerves and boredom may leave you inclined to drain the bar dry. DON’T.
Small talk can be pretty cringey, especially if you’ve only just met. Asking the person you’ve just introduced yourself to about themselves, why they’re there and what they do will quickly give you a sense of whether they’re ‘interesting’ (ie, useful). But if they’re not, don’t rule them out. Chat a bit more and explore common ground. Talk about your own area of expertise and what you love about it so you get them interested. You don’t know who they know – and their contacts book could be full of useful people. Smile. Be nice!
An appropriate greeting for a total stranger you’ve just been introduced to is a handshake – not a bear hug or an awkward French-style kiss on both cheeks. Avoid the ‘wet fish’ handshake (limp and sweaty), but also try not to pump your new friend’s hand too hard or you’ll come across as nervy or aggressive. A firm brief handshake is all you need. Or avoid the scenario altogether by having a drink in one hand and canapé in the other (‘the handicanapé’), so you can just smile winningly as you say your name and ask for theirs.
CANING IT AT THE BAR
Networking can be a nerve-wracking thing, especially if you’re not used to it. But announcing “I don’t get out much” and tucking into the tipple with gusto is very ill-advised indeed. Maybe you do need to get out more – with your actual friends. But when networking you’re there to make a good impression among strangers and hopefully meet new contacts, so if the prospect of plentiful wine turns you into an instant lush, breathing winey fumes at all and sundry, it’s time to locate your off switch.
THE SCATTERGUN APPROACH
If you’ve ever had someone shove their business card in your face without bothering to even ask your name, you’ll know how annoying this approach is. You won’t get work out of it if you hand your own business card out like sweets – you’ll just end up receiving a flurry of newsletters from people you’re not remotely interested in. Only give your card to someone if you’ve had a good chat and really connected with them.
Nerves or enthusiasm might find you jumping in to speak up while someone else is talking. Or you may have something really relevant or funny to say and don’t feel like it can wait. But this is not a great way to connect with people – it’s just rude. Equally, if you’ve spotted a group you like the look of having an animated chat, don’t just barge in but stand just off to the side, make eye contact, smile and wait for them to invite you into the group. And if they don’t they’re not worth bothering with.
What do you say when people ask what you do? This is a tricky one. Some people will talk at you for 10 minutes and you still walk away none the wiser as to how they earn a living. Don’t overcomplicate it and avoid being woolly. You may have heard of The Elevator Pitch, a short, specific summary of your amazingness that you somehow have to cram into the time an elevator takes to go up a few floors (because that’s how long we’ve got to hold someone’s attention and make an impact). Practise saying specifically what you do, how beneficial it is and who you do it for. Try it. Get it off to a fine art.
Making real and lasting connections with likeminded people is a wonderful thing. But however warm and friendly your brand new contact may seem, you don’t actually know them yet and they’re unlikely to want to know about your painful divorce or hot flushes. Wine and a laugh can soon make us relax a little too much (see CANING IT AT THE BAR). But a meaningful chat can soon turn awkward if you overshare. Save it for your girlfriends.
This isn’t all about you. Obviously you want to tell someone (anyone) what you do and give them a positive reason to remember you, but if you just blah on about yourself they’ll think you’re an idiot. We’ve all met that one person who loves talking about themselves so much they would feel more at home with a loud hailer. And they’re not interesting, are they? So be a good listener as well as a talker and think about how you might be able to help them. Remember that networking is a long game. Someone you meet today could do you a massive service in the future. So be memorable and generous.
Words: Marina Gask and Cheryl Laidlaw, co-founder of the Work The Room video series on YouTube.