We can do almost anything with a swipe, click or tap these days, and digital technology shows no signs of slowing its takeover of everyday tasks. Even letting our fingers do the talking has become a way of life in recent years, and I wouldn’t be surprised if an alarming number of people go all day without opening their mouths to speak.
Despite the many advantages the digital revolution has brought to communication (speed, cost, efficiency), it poses a threat that many young professionals – tomorrow’s Directors – do not learn the art of networking and making valuable connections through face to face communication.
Studies show that around 80% of all new business comes from networking of some type. That’s a whopping percentage when you consider the hours poured into digital outreach activities such as professional platforms, webinars, newsletters, etc... How many businesses are spending an equal amount of time on physical attendance to networking events, industry fairs and local business meetings?
It can be tough to prove the value of networking events (there’s no analytics or insights tab, no spreadsheet you can download to show instant ROI) but one thing is for sure – if you are attending an event for business purposes, you need to be getting the most out of your time there, because there is probably a competitor there right now!
Keep reading if you fancy 10 top tips on how to network like the best of them!
1. Know your stuff. Make sure you research the types of businesses that will be attending the event alongside you, and single out any that you really want to strike up a relationship with and why.
2. Go in smiling. Make sure you’re in the right frame of mind for lots of small talk, short conversations, as well as introducing yourself confidently. It’s natural to feel a bit nervous!
3. Have your business cards to hand. There’s nothing more awkward than fumbling in the bottom of your bag for those pesky business cards – make sure they’re tucked somewhere convenient so you can hand them over with a stylish swoop.
4. Conversation starters. Have some in mind – no one enjoys seeing that tumbleweed fly past.
5. Offer advice as well as soaking it up. You might be there with the long term goal of finding new business, but try and see a networking event just like your other marketing efforts – you have to give to get.
6. Get personal (a bit). You don’t need to ask them which child is their favourite, but striking up a relationship that is based on more than just work is the way to a long lasting partnership. In short, find a common ground both in and outside the office.
7. Talk awards. A great talking point is asking if their team has entered any awards this year, to which your response can be “you should enter MKBAA!”
8. Everyone is a nobody. Business celebs aside, most people there will also be feeling a little lost. Don’t let nerves stop you from introducing yourself – put your phone away and go back to basics with real, honest speech.
9. Share with your colleagues. If you were one of the lucky few to attend the event, make sure the wider team gets a snapshot of where you went, who you met, and how they can be involved in maximising on the opportunity.
10. Schedule some follow up time. Putting in the effort to maintain those connections is vital if you’re going to see anything come from all that small talk. Schedule in a block of time the following week to continue the conversations.
Getting the art of networking down isn’t initially easy, but it’s a skill that will come into play throughout your career whether you’re at a business event, going for that dream job, or befriending the elusive IT support team!