Shortest horror story ever.....networking event! These words can be dreaded if your boss asks you to go on behalf of your company to a rubber chicken dinner (you know the ones where they serve the same, bland, food in the vacuous hotel ballrooms?) Well, networking does not have to be dreaded any more when you understand why it is so important for business and how to make it more bearable (and even effective!) with these tips.
Why does anyone spend time networking anyway? And does it really matter for my own success? Unequivocally, yes!
The short answer as to why networking is so important is because no man reaches career success on his own. You have to be engaged to hear about the deals on the horizon or the openings at the company. You have to know people well so you will "get the call." And, it really helps if you are actually liked by others. My jobs have all come through my relationships. How many times do people open up a phone book and call you out of the blue? Rarely! Networking is a way to get to know others, to be known by others and, importantly, to create a positive reputation. Networking gives you the opportunity to show people you want to learn more about them. When you invest time networking, it shows others that you care about their interests and their success. Your success will be a byproduct of being genuinely interested in getting to know others.
My top tip for being a good networker is to know that "networking" is awkward - for everyone. No one is comfortable walking into a room full of strangers. But with practice you can get better at networking and may have a little fun in the process.
But what do you do? You don't know anyone. Who should you talk to? You want to make the most of this event and network effectively but how? Reading the room and the non-verbal communication that people give is the way to make these next choices and make sure you get into the right conversations and make your next networking event a little less daunting.
1) Is the person facing outward/open to the action and smiling? That is a person who is giving an invitation to talk. Go network! Start with small questions. I call them my how, who, what, where questions like how do you know the host, how are you involved with this organization. These are probing questions that get you more information than "how is the weather?" plus you really get to know someone if you listen to these answers.
2) Is there a bored looking group, talking sporadically, looking at phone a lot? If you can liven up the party with them, you will be a welcome hero. If you are not up for that, this group will be hard to break into and likely is full of others who are not terribly interested in networking.
3) You see someone with a big smile, aggressive hand shaker, business cards at the ready? He's selling something...run. Those folks rarely want to help others - they are there to collect cards.
4) Is there another solo person but with a smile? Offer conversation. Those situations often offer the most bang for the buck as everyone is grateful to find a group at a networking event.
While this is not necessarily a way to make networking easier, I always recommend wearing something that you are really comfortable wearing and typically something dark. Why? Because you don't want to be worried that you shoulder straps are not staying up, or that your dress does not zip correctly, etc. Plus, dark colors hide spills so if you accidentally get bumped with your wine in hand at the cocktail hour, then you won't be worried about your outfit showing the remnants of the accident for the rest of dinner. I have linked a few of my staple work pieces (including regular and plus sizes) that are always appropriate for business networking events and will leave you wrinkle and worry free for the evening.
What are your top networking tips?
M.E.L. is an attorney and small business entrepreneur whose mission is to help professionals conquer the workaday world with style and poise.
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