Networking

by Heather White

Before you go to an event

If you are going to networking events, it pays to put your head into it and do some planning beforehand.

What are the benefits of attending events?

With networking, you just never know what you might discover, who you might meet and what you might learn. That’s what makes it so enjoyable and thrilling. You’ve created an opportunity that only exists because you showed up and enjoyed a conversation. It is the opportunity to meet people in an ‘informal setting’, allowing for a conversation to start. You will meet potential alliances, suppliers and influencers; gather intelligence; find new business contacts, and develop ideas. You will also find friendships, life partners and heaps of other great things. With networking, you just never know what you will discover.

When should you network?

While we should be networking 12 months of the year, July and August are relatively fallow periods – the networkers’ winter, if you like. And just as, with the seasons of the year, there are the times for sowing and harvesting, so too there are peak times for networking, when there is an abundance of places to go and people to meet. So let’s not waste these times, but instead make good use of the opportunities. November and December are noteworthy as the peak season for social networking. January to March, on the other hand, is the season when most people think about moving on or trying to bring in those last sales figures to meet targets.

Why are you going?

  1. Are you hosting the event or attending as a guest? If hosting, see How to host an event.
  2. Are you going because you want to or ‘have’ to? If ‘have to’, see How to get started – do this bit first.
  3. Are you attending this event because it fits into your overall networking strategy? If you don’t have a networking strategy, see How to get started – do this bit first for more thoughts.
  4. Is this event internal or external?
  1. If internal, will attendees just be employees of the company or will external guests be there?
  2. If only employees
  • Is it a divisional meeting (regular updates)?
  • Is the head person running an event?
  • Is it a staff association event?
  1. Are you experienced at networking or not? If you are less experienced, you may want to take a quick look at Techniques for shy or quiet types for more details on what to expect and tips for building confidence.
  2. Are you attending this event because
  • It may help your internal career?
  • You hope to find new business?
  • It will raise your profile?

Please write down your answers to these questions on a piece of paper, adding anything else that is important to you.

You need the answers to be clear in your mind before you arrive at the event, because how you work the room once you get there depends on where you are going and why. How you work a room also depends on why the other guests are going, so you will have to marry these two ‘whys’ together and act appropriately. Your actions at this point will set you apart from everyone else as coming across as highly professional.

Before you go, do this

Before we get going on this subject, it is vital to understand the following points and bear them in mind.

  • Jeff Bezos, CEO Amazon, says ‘a brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room’. No pressure here, but your actions at this event will determine what people say about you over the water cooler.
  • It is rare, though not impossible, to sell your products or services or to be promoted on the first encounter. The chief thing you can aim to ‘sell’ on the day is therefore you and your expertise, which means that the only thing with which you have to concern yourself is to build trust, rapport and understanding.
  • People like confident, relaxed individuals, so when attending an event, you’re aiming to relax, enjoy yourself and allow others to get to know you so that they can talk positively about you when you are not in the room.
  • When you meet the right person, remember what you are really trying to do is gain the follow-up appointment/telephone call. It is only when someone agrees to meet you, to talk to you, that networking has done its initial job.

Checklist

Before you go, make sure you know the answers to these questions:

  • Who is going to be there?
  • What is the format of the event?
  • What is the dress code?
  • What do I want to achieve?

Your 60-second pitch

It is said we should all have a prepared and well-rehearsed ‘60-second’ pitch ready to give at a drop of a hat. We should be prepared for those moments when someone says, ‘so Jim, what do you do?’ or you are in a lift with the CEO of your company and you want to create an impact. However, here are some thoughts for you:

  • When in a lift with a senior executive
  • Don’t make a pitch – create a conversation
  • Show interest in them – create a conversation
  • Most senior executives would hate getting into any lift if they were being attacked every five minutes with a pitch amounting to ‘please sir, look at me’; you can just imagine a herd of wannabe’s queuing outside the CEO’s office and tipping off their mates to get ready to get into a lift – hardly bears thinking about.
  • When a stranger at an event says ‘so Jim, what do you do?’
  • They are just trying to get a conversation going and really don’t want a ten-minute burst of what you do.
  • Tell them what you specialise in first and see if that gets their attention.
  • If they don’t ask you anything more, continue with a question about them.
  • If they express interest in what you do, say a little bit more and find out what they know about your area of expertise.
  • Remember what you are aiming to achieve – if this is a good contact, you are seeking to create an agreeable conversation that could lead you to an exchange of cards or an agreement to stay in touch.

How to design your 60-second pitch

  • Section 1: say your first name and company name, plus area of expertise
  • Hi, my name is Heather, from The Magic of Networking, and we specialise in teaching networking strategies and behaviours.
  • Section 2: say where you focus your efforts
  • We work with FTSE 500, mostly in the finance and technology sectors, and cover issues such as winning new business and internal talent development.
  • Section 3: give a simple case study
  • With one company, we increased pipeline business by 46 per cent over a six-month period.
  • Section 4: say what you are looking for
  • We are looking for new contacts with xyz company.
  • Section 5: now ask a question to create a conversation
  • So what about yourself – what do you do?
  • I noticed that you are in the finance sector; what is your experience of networking with your senior executives?

This process is the first stage of getting to know someone, and what makes it work is the energy behind it, so

  • Be passionate and energised
  • Be interested in what you do
  • Use humour
  • Use their language.

Designing a 60-second pitch is a discipline that we should all exercise, because it will help us articulate precisely what we do. This does need to be practised, but ultimately you will to be able to create a conversation and within that conversation know how to drop a few seeds and see what the other person finds interesting.

If they are not interested, it will generally be for one of just a few reasons:

  • They are simply not interested – so stop and change the subject
  • You have not made it sound interesting enough to warrant a conversation on that topic
  • You have not used their language to make the right connection in their minds (see Representational systems in the NLP topic for more on this).