By Noelia García, a journalist at El Economista
Heading to a networking event can make people nervous or even stressed if they are introverts or suffer from stage fright. It may just be their first time and they do not want to get it wrong. An event of this nature has to be seen as more than just a chance for swapping football stickers (or business cards that often end up at the bottom of a desk drawer) and useless chatting.
To be effective at these events for making new ‘friends’, you need to take the time to ask yourself some questions beforehand. What is the objective of attending? (helping you get off an unfocused path, for example). Who is hosting the event? Who is sponsoring it? It is always a good plan to have an idea of their background. What do I need from this event? What is my personal brand? What factor sets me apart from the rest of the professionals there? Make sure you check out social media, especially if the event has been posted and the attendees have confirmed they are going using these platforms. If so, it is highly advisable to check out their profiles on LinkedIn and Twitter.
Body language and the way you communicate plays a key role. With this in mind, dressing well builds people’s self-confidence. It is a safe bet to use a blank and white colour scheme, as it always looks smart. Add a unique broach, tie, scarf or necklace to help yourself stand out.
Don’t forget your business cards. It may seem obvious but many people head to these events without any. Saying that you’ve just given away the last one isn’t going to wash. You should take more cards than you think you are going to need. Another tip that can help for following up after the event is to take notes on the cards themselves once the person has left you or straight after the event. This will enable you to be more specific when you follow up leads. The purpose of networking is getting in contact with people in the future.
You should always start a conversation with the basics: you name, company, affiliation, position, etc. It is important to make eye contact, with a smile, giving a brief but firm handshake. Listen to the other person’s name carefully and then repeat it a couple of times in the conversation. Not only does this help you to remember their name but it also makes you seem sincere and interested in the conversation.
Letting the other person speak is crucial. When someone speaks first, the other people only listen partially. When you speak in second place, people tend to be more relaxed and listen more actively. Some over-enthusiastic networkers may forget this and take up 95% of the conversation, making it completely unilateral. Asking the other person about their job shows that you are interested in more than just the professional opportunities they can offer you. The best questions are those that cannot be answered with a simple yes or no.
Commit to the conversation. Keep eye contact and nod your head. These signals show that the conversation matters to you and helps to build a relationship of trust, which is the foundation on which your future business dealings will be built.
There is nothing wrong with joining a conversation and waiting for a natural break in the dialogue to introduce yourself. The people talking will be glad of the interruption because it gives them the chance to meet somebody new.
Don’t try to be the person you think they want to meet.
Most importantly, try to relax and have fun.
A few days after the event, send follow-up e-mail messages to anybody that you met who you would like to keep in contact with. It is important to personalize each e-mail, letting them know that you enjoyed meeting them and mentioning something that you discussed. You can also connect with them on LinkedIn or Twitter.