We’ve all seen that one person, who walks into the room and seems to know everyone, has confidence and just chats with so much ease. The fact is though, that there are very few people who this comes to naturally, so how do you learn this? It’s like any other skill, with practice.
You’ve decided to network and more than likely you’re going along with a colleague or friend but maybe, just maybe you’ve decided to be brave, bite that bullet and…go on your own!
Now normally once you arrive you might head straight for the coffee/tea station or if you’re there for a talk find a seat towards the back…STOP!
If you are there for a talk and there is no time for networking, be brave and sit in the front row and if you’re not quite ready for that then go for the second row. People will perceive that you are confident and someone who takes charge, after all isn’t that what you think when you see people do this. It’s the old ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ routine! However during the talk the speaker will more than likely make eye contact with you, you’ll feel more engaged and will learn more.
Networking: finding someone to talk to
Firstly stay just inside the door and take a quick survey of the room. Look at people’s body language:
Single person: you’ll be able to get a quick read and use your ‘first impression’ instincts about whether you want to approach them or not;
Two people: if they are standing side by side or at a slight angle to each other then they are open to someone joining them. If they are directly facing each other, do not interrupt, this is a clear indication that they do not want to be joined by anyone.
Three or more: the larger the group the easier it is to join but do quickly read the ‘circle’ and see who is facing outwards (it might only be slightly) as this is the person(s) most open to another conversation.
Now, if you’re in a conversation and the other person is at an angle to you, it’s not that they are bored or don’t want to talk to you, remember they are there to network, just like you. So, all they are saying is that they are open to other conversations. Don’t think it is personal, because you should be doing the same!
Networking: Making the approach
Please remember, this isn’t a date, you’re not trying to find ‘the one’, you are looking for potential connections that YOU CAN HELP. Yes, networking isn’t just about what people can give you; it’s about what you can offer them (I’ll come back to this later).
So, take a deep breath in, hold for 4 and exhale for 4 and then smile. Your shoulders should have naturally dropped when you took the deep breath and smiling will help you to continue to relax. Walk over to the person or people you want to approach and you’ll find at least one of them will make eye contact with you, hold that and simply say Hi.
This is where you need your opener, but have two options (an introduction to yourself and an opening question).
Introduction: I would always suggest you have 2, a brief summary and then another which is slightly longer so has more detail. If the group is larger the chances are you won’t have a chance to talk to everyone so a longer introduction allows everyone to know who you are and where you work. The shorter version is if you are talking to 1 or 2 people, you want to hold back on too much information too soon so that you can have a conversation with them.
Opening question: just because you’ve approached people it doesn’t mean they aren’t just as nervous or maybe even as uncomfortable as you. By smiling and making eye contact they will naturally feel at ease with you so let’s keep that level of relaxation going and remember to use their name, it not only helps you remember it, it makes them feel like you’re listening and connecting.
Me: Hi, I’m Amanda
Them: Hi I’m ‘name’
Me: It’s lovely to meet you ‘name’, so who do you work for and what brought you here tonight?
If you’d just asked them who they work for you might just get a company name from them and nothing else, after all they might not be that natural conversationalist we all want to be, but by adding an additional question it opens up the conversation. Now, if it’s obvious what brought them there, it could be an amazing speaker etc., then have a few questions ready. If everyone has name badges with their company information you could say:
“It’s lovely to meet you ‘name’, I see you work for ‘X’ what do you do there/who do you work for?” (As I’m an EA I go to quite a few PA/EA networking events it makes more sense to ask who they work for rather than what they do).
For the longer introduction, trying to come up with a little anecdote, something that will make them smile or even laugh, you will make a good impression. I normally start with something like this:
“Hi, I’m Amanda, I’m a Freelance Executive Assistant (blank stares are the norm at this point!). Basically, I’m your 25th hour in the day and help SMEs or individuals organise themselves or their business. I’m the person you hand your shoebox full of receipts to as you haven’t completed an expense claim in 3months!”
When I was employed used to use something like this:
“Hi, I’m Amanda. I work for ‘X’, (almost everyone had never heard of the company) oh it’s OK no one has heard of them, they are one of the largest privately owned FMCG companies in the UK and supply pretty much everything to supermarkets that isn’t food! They also own a garden chemical company, boy was that a learning curve when they bought them…mind you I can now tell you the difference between a British slug and a Spanish slug, although I have no idea when that will ever be useful!”
Now the above only takes 10-15secs to say and I wouldn’t say that word for word, otherwise you sound rehearsed and will even possibly sound dull, no no no, we don’t want that, but you know your company better than anyone else there so chat a bit about who you work for/with etc. You’ll fill 60secs quite easily.
As I said this isn’t a date and if the conversation lulls do not be afraid to say that you’ve seen a friend or that you’re going for a coffee and you’ll catch up with them later. Remember that conversation is a two way streak so if it wasn’t a massive success don’t view that as a fail on your part. If you’ve been standing at a slight angle during the conversation you’ve possibly already identified the next person(s) you want to speak to. I once approached a group who were laughing and looked to be enjoying themselves so much that my opening line was “do you mind if I join you as you all seem to be having such a good time!”
Now back to the point I made earlier about networking being there for you to help others. This doesn’t mean you have to be the fount of all knowledge on your job role and be able to teach others everything you know. It could simply be that the person you are talking to is the only PA at their company and could do with knowing someone else who they can ask advice from. It could also be that in the future they want a new job and by telling you, you happen to know someone who is recruiting.
Remember networking is about building up your contacts so that if someone reaches out to you and you can’t help there is a chance you’ll know someone who can…because you’ve been networking and have contacts across the city at a whole host of different companies & sectors.