Facilitator and Coach Bronia Bronia Szczygiel shares some tips for those who dread going to business networking events.
Many people find networking events awkward and approach with them with a sinking heart. Unfortunately they refuse to go away with many companies insisting that their staff network with clients. My experience is that what you often see at such events is large clusters of staff talking to each other and clients left to fend for themselves.
Conferences are another trial. There seem to be groups of people that know each other really well – usually the organizing committee – and then odd pairs of colleagues and a pack of lone wolfs.
If you’re one of those people that dread those events, we have some simple tips taken from our Networking Training Course to make them easier to handle. Who knows you may even come to enjoy them!
1. Shake hands
My husband worked in the USA for six years and picked up the American habit of shaking hands with people whenever he met them. When I first met him I found it surprising and very polite – it made me think.
I decided to make a conscious effort when meeting clients, whether for the first time or at regular meetings, to shake hands and notice the reaction. They seemed to brighten up, I got a smile and we started to chat quite naturally without any of the awkwardness that sometimes comes at the start of a meeting.
The next step was to approach strangers at networking events with an outstretched hand and surprise, surprise it worked there too.
An outstretched hand is almost impossible to ignore in our culture. The social pressure to shake hands is enormous and once you’ve shaken it’s almost obligatory to follow up with polite conversation, usually starting with your name.
So remembering that most people at a networking event probably feel as awkward as you normally do, approach with a smile and an outstretched hand…..
2. Hit the hot spots like a host
There are places at networking events where people tend to congregate – like in the kitchen at parties. Those places tend to be the buffet or the bar.
You’ll often see lone people clutching a plate or a drink looking vacantly around. They’re more than likely wishing they weren’t there. The number of times I’ve talked to people like that and the sigh of relief is almost audible – ‘Thank heavens, someone to talk to!’
If you were hosting a party, you would find it perfectly natural to take care of people who looked lonely. You’d no doubt speak to them yourself or introduce them to others.
So why not act like a host at a networking event?
3. Be interested to be interesting
At a recent networking event for a large public sector organization it would have been great to speak to the head of L&D about coaching for them. The problem was the room was full of coaches with that same agenda, she would no doubt have found it impertinent and I probably wouldn’t have got very far.
So I didn’t.
Instead I chatted to her about what was going on for her and found out that she was looking for a new elearning system provider but was having difficulty finding someone in the UK that could match their requirements. I knew someone who could fit the bill and, although there was nothing in it for me, I put both parties in touch with each other, independently of me, and the project was a great success.
Now which coach do you think she will remember from that event?
Reciprocity is a powerful influencer, especially if you give without hope of receiving. Give generously of your interest, your social capital, your knowledge at these events and it’s like sowing seeds – some will grow and bear fruit. The exciting thing is never knowing which ones!
So the next time you are at a networking event, treat it like a game. See what happens when you use the three tips we’ve given you – before you know it you’ll be relaxed and chatting, with people wondering what your secret is!
And just to make you smile, here’s a fun take on networking…..