Work to expand your net – tips on how to network
So, you saw this event on Facebook. You figured you would go because the topic sounds interesting and this could be a great chance to meet some new people. ‘Going’ is what you click on the Facebook event invite…
Fast forward to you standing in a room full of people, and you have absolutely no idea what to do with yourself because no one gave you the ‘101 Crash Course’ for networking. Now what?
For some, networking comes naturally and easily – as if they have a Master’s degree in it. But for others, like myself, I have no idea how some people have mastered this art. It just seems like a lot of work; all I see is the word ‘work’ in ‘networking’ and I never really know who to talk to or how to start a good conversation with the people in the room. But after attending the #FutureFemales ‘The Entrepreneur Mindset’ workshop, doing a little digging and talking to a friend of mine, here are some tips that you might want to think about when learning about networking.
I’m guilty of wanting to attend any and every event that is either free, close to where I live or has a topic that highly interests me. And understanding how to choose your battles is important for networking.
You don’t need to attend every single networking event that Facebook advertises. If I’m interested in confidence building, what am I doing at an event about finances? Unless there is a particular objective you’d like to achieve at this event (like how to become a millionaire before 30), try focusing on the people you might meet at the event. I wanted to attend the #FutureFemales workshop because I find something incredible about being in a room full of women, and knowing that I’ll be encouraged and inspired by women is why I attended.
Also, consider what the topic of the event is. I don’t know a lot about entrepreneurship, but I knew that by attending the workshop, I was going to learn something new and gain knowledge I didn’t have before. Empowerment, to me, can also be about choosing to position myself in a way that makes me better for tomorrow. Choosing to attend the #FutureFemales workshop empowered me, not by just being there but by being attentive to what I was learning about a topic I wasn’t too familiar with but wanted to learn more about. So ask yourself, does the topic at a networking event actually interest you?
Sesihle Manzini, who manages the user experience activities for ‘&Wider’, says that even though her work places her in many professional environments where she can network, she has a genuine passion for engaging with people. Talkative, yes, but Sesihle always wants to know and gain knowledge, so when she networks, it’s about being interested in the person you are talking to, as well as the topic of the event.
‘&Wider’ has events around social businesses, mixing purpose with profit and generating impact. If this is something you are interested in, you already have talking points and this makes it much easier to engage in a conversation with someone because you’ll know what to say. On the flip side, if you don’t know too much about the topic, let your curiosity guide you. Talk about how you can learn more about what was spoken at the event, how you can personally implement the topics in your life, or what others took away from the topic – “Your genuine interest and curiosity will help you”, Sesihle says, because she knows that she wants to learn from the conversation and not dominate it. Be a listener, essentially, and a careful one at that.
The actual conversation
Some might say that the hardest part of a conversation is the beginning, because how do you break the ice without falling into icy waters? While I was at the #FutureFemales event, the first hour was dedicated to networking with other women. I didn’t know how to do this, but I would approach people who were by themselves, and simply ask “Are you also feeling like you have no idea who to talk to?” Some would laugh – I probably would have too – but it got a conversation going which lead to me either exchanging numbers or learning more about the person I was talking to.
For others, introducing yourself works just fine. The standard “Hi, I’m Khalipha, nice to meet you” has helped me in many situations, and whilst this does start some conversations, it’s also important to look at the nonverbal cues as the conversation progresses.
Both Sesihle and I have studied Psychology, and reading nonverbal cues is not foreign for us. Sometimes, you’ll think that the conversation is great, but then you forget to see that the other person is on their phone, nodding their heads instead of answering you and not maintaining eye contact with you. Keep an eye out for these things. The other person might not yawn or flat out say “I’m bored of this conversation” but you’ll see when they aren’t interested – if you aren’t able to get what you wanted to achieve from the conversation, perhaps you need to try with someone else.
Let’s be real
Networking is not an exam, so don’t feel the pressure to get an A+ and engage with every person in the room. Remember that networking is a two-way street, and as much as you should be an active and careful listener, engage in the conversation and the person – talk back! But instead of trying too hard to make some sort of impression, be real and authentic. I’ve been open and honest with people when I’ve said I have no idea how to network, and that authenticity has helped the other person forge a connection with me through empathy; mainly because there’s a chance they’re also feeling the same way!
Networking isn’t about perfection and as you attend more events, you’ll learn to get better at it. But just remain real – share your interests and hobbies, talk about what made you want to attend the event, what did you like about the speaker. All of this are great ways to not only make a good impression but to find common ground and get a conversation going.
Let’s do this again?
So the conversation was great, impressions were made and you really want to talk to this person again? What next?
In today’s day and age, exchanging numbers is the norm and there’s nothing wrong in doing this. But asking for someone’s number won’t work in every situation and with every person. At social networking events, this would work, but if you find yourself in a more professional environment, perhaps you might need something else.
Sesihle mentions that in these cases, having your contact details ready is important and your best bet would be business cards. Exchanging these helps you follow up on people instead of waiting around for their call. People get busy and it’s easy to forget to contact someone, so take the initiative and message or email them to set a time to meet again.