The first time you attend a professional networking event can be a bit intimidating. Some people might wear a suit and tie, have years of experience, and know exactly how to introduce themselves and their business. There you are staring at the business card in your hand, completely speechless. How should you talk to these people? What if they’re not interested in what you have to say? And why is there no coffee refill available?
At Othership we have weekly networking events online and a Co-Work & Brunch in one of our venues. Read these networking Do’s and Dont’s and you’ll see that nothing can go wrong. You will leave the event with a bunch of new business cards and contacts that could be useful in the future.
Do’s of professional networking
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Even if you might be a bit shy at first, keep a smile on your lips and use positive gestures. It is much more likely for other people to approach you when you come across as a nice person. When you start talking, show confidence in your words and your body language.
Actively approach people
It is always better for you to approach somebody than to be approached. You will come across as more confident and professional. The first impression that you make on somebody is very important.
Prepare questions and conversation starters
Approaching somebody at a networking event is a lot easier if you are well prepared with a conversation starter. Once you are in the middle of a chat, you should ask questions to keep the conversation going and show interest. Even if you think at first that the person you are talking to has nothing to offer for your business, always remember that this person also has a network. They might not become your business partner, but they might introduce you to somebody else later.
They might seem like an outdated concept, but they are not. You will see that handing somebody a business card does not only make you look more professional, but it also gives confidence and builds a connection. It almost is like a handshake at the end of your conversation. That is important. You should have a business card ready, but only hand them out towards the end, don’t start a conversation with a business card. That won’t get you any credit with new contacts.
A business card has another advantage over contact details that are saved on a phone: People might stumble upon them again later when they’re back at their office and remember you.
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When you’re at a networking event, you want to get to know other people and their businesses and vice versa. The best way to present your business is an elevator pitch. That is a short business pitch that provides the most important aspect of what you do and why you do it. Keep it short and crisp and make sure you tell people how they can get in touch with you.
Tell something about yourself
In the elevator pitch, you introduce your business. In the further conversation, you can get a bit more personal. Maybe you discover that you have a hobby or interest in common with the other person. That way you will automatically have a connection. That is important in business because you want to build trust and show potential business partners who you are. Generally, people do business with people!
In professional networking, you want to be heard and so does the person you’re talking to. Not listening to what they say is simply rude and won’t get you any results. You need to be as interested in their story as you want them to be in yours. If you’re not listening, you won’t be able to keep the conversation going and you’re only wasting time.
What matters most when you’re networking is to build trust. Sharing information about you is one part of it, but you should also demonstrate that you are willing to go the extra mile. Offering help is a great way to build a connection and it becomes even more important when you are asking for help. Offer first, then ask!
Follow up but don’t be pushy
If you think that the networking ends after the event, think twice! You made initial contact, you build a connection, but you want to follow up to ensure that you stay in touch with the people you spoke to. You can connect with them on LinkedIn and send a short message. You can also email them leaving a short note about how nice it was to meet them. Again, offer your help and summarise the things you can help with. There are now three touchpoints: a business card, an email, and a LinkedIn connection. If the other person requires your services or wants to introduce you to somebody else, it will be a lot easier for them to find your contact details again.
Professional networking isn’t speed dating. You make initial contact at a networking event, but don’t expect immediate business relationships. People might not need your services right now. They might also want to have a follow-up chat with you where you can go into a bit more detail about each other’s businesses. Networking takes time, keep on going though. The more often people see your face, the more likely they will remember you when they need your services. Even if you feel that it stagnates, you’re not meeting new people anymore or your networking seems unsuccessful, it is not. It just takes time. All good things take time. And if somebody wants to work with you, they will come back to you when the time is right.
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Dont’s of professional networking
Don’t be shy
This is probably the most important aspect of professional networking. You need to speak up and actively approach people. Don’t be shy!
Don’t stand around and look at your phone
We are all guilty of that from time to time. We look at our phones and get carried away in emails or social media. Don’t do it at a networking event. You want to be in the room, pay attention and be interested in what’s going on.
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Don’t speak to only one person
Professional networking is designed for you to make as many connections as possible. If you have the feeling that you need to talk a bit more to one person, exchange your contact details and schedule a separate meeting. Whilst you’re at the networking event, try to speak to as many people as you can.
Don’t be too casual
In modern business, it is sometimes difficult to find the right balance between formality and casual style. If you are unsure about an event’s dress code and how you should talk to people, it is always better to be too formal than too casual. Even if you are representing a cool and hip start-up with a product for teens, potential business partners want to work with adults, you better appear as one.
Don’t sit when you’re being introduced
If you’re introduced to somebody, stand up from your seat. It is a form of respect and politeness, and you will see that it is easier to create a connection if you literally see eye to eye.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions
Questions show that you are interested in what the other person has to say and keep the conversation going. Don’t be afraid to ask!
Don’t overpromote yourself, stay humble
During professional networking, we all want to introduce ourselves and present our businesses. You should do that in a confident way without too much self-promotion. People will like you more if you are staying humble.
Don’t drink too much
You will find plenty of networking events in the morning and at lunchtime, occasionally they are in the evenings, and they often serve drinks. Whilst it might be tempting if the drinks are free, be careful! Nobody will take you seriously as a businessperson if they meet you when you’re drunk.
There are a lot of do’s and dont’s when it comes to professional networking, but it’s not that hard. Be prepared and be your lovely self. You’ll meet other professionals and grow your network over time.