So, you’ve been invited to a ‘do’. You know there will be wine and guest speakers, but then you see the dreaded word ‘networking’. Thoughts of Bridget Jones, polite conversations about Chechnya, and ‘how do you get a job without appearing too desperate, too annoying, or heaven forbid, you have food on your clothes’ race through your mind. Some people are natural networkers, effortlessly breezing through awkward stilted events with laughter, always saying pertinent and interesting things, with an occasional flick of the hair that seems to work in their favour. At least that’s how it seems. So, here are a few hints to combat nerves, speak to those you want to speak to and create the right impression.
At these events serial networkers can often feel like vultures attacking their prey. They’re so keen to say what they want to say that they remain blissfully unaware that they’re being rude, not listening and generally not assessing the situation very well. As someone who has been ‘networked’ myself, this is incredibly in your face and inappropriate. The words “Nice to meet you” don’t necessarily give you carte blanche to divulge your whole career history, self shooting skills and what you want to do. Be polite and also be mindful that people may want to leave. I have often said, “I’m sorry I need to get my train,” only to be met with, “I’ll only be ten minutes”. Now, I know I’m not Madonna, but surely there are other ways to get your point across?
“Be yourself. Don’t speak like you’re from Made in Chelsea when you’re much more Coronation Street.”
I personally feel more comfortable talking to someone if I’ve been introduced, but that isn’t always possible, so the options are either to be brave, skulk in the corner, or chat to your friends, later kicking yourself that you didn’t ask the question you wanted to. If you’ve been to an event and heard someone speak, a great opener is just to say, “I really enjoyed your talk, there were some really useful points I hadn’t thought of,” and then introduce yourself. This will immediately put the other person at ease and engage them, making it more appropriate for you to ask any questions or talk more about what you’ve been doing. Always remember to keep it relevant, and if you want to talk about your skills make sure they are useful to the person who is listening. “I’m a big fan of the observational documentaries that you’ve recently produced. I’m a factual researcher and I love to self-shoot and develop ideas. I would love to talk to you about some of them.”
If you can’t get to the speaker, then talk to the people around you about what you’ve heard and engage with them. You never know who’s going to be useful or how their network can benefit you. It’s not always the loudest or the most gregarious who can be the most helpful – it can often be the least obvious person who can be the most useful, so chat to everyone.
There’s nothing worse than chatting to someone who’s constantly scanning the room, looking over your shoulder for someone more important. You can see through this. Maintain eye contact and engage. If you need to speak to someone else, wait for a suitable pause in the conversation and simply say, “I’m sorry, I need to catch up with such and such, but lovely to meet you.”
If you’re handing out business cards or you’re collecting them, follow up with an email to say, “It was great to meet you and talk about… . As discussed here is my CV… .” What you’re doing here is showing that you’re keen and also that you listened to what they said. Talk about your skills and how you can help them rather than just what they can do for your career.
Most importantly, be yourself; don’t speak like you’re from Made in Chelsea when you’re much more Coronation Street. Don’t be affected or fake, don’t be over familiar … and don’t be too drunk. Be professional but polite, show your personality and speak passionately. For me there is nothing worse than someone spouting business talk which leaves me clueless as to what they said.
Introduce people to each other and facilitate this – “Oh I know someone who works in… Do contact them!” Sharing contacts and ideas will ultimately do you good, and think of all that lovely karma.
Be careful not to alienate and be rude to those around you. You may be hampering your chances, maybe not in the short term but definitely in the long term as you never know where everyone will be in five years time. Speak to those around you at the same level and network with them. They may not be a CEO but this collaborative working can lead to more contacts and ultimately more opportunities.