Networking can be a nightmare but for many of us, it’s a routine part of our professional lives.
Some people are natural social butterflies and are able to translate this ability into a professional setting with ease. But before you start feeling like the awkward constant-phone-checking oddball in the corner (come on, we’ve all been there!), think of how many more people are out there who – perhaps like you – would rather stay home, watch TV and wash their hair (again) rather than taking on the sometimes stupefying world of business cards, handshakes and elevator pitches!
Firstly, let’s shake off all those usual fears about networking…
- This event will be boring anyway, why bother going?
Sure – but the content is not why you’re necessarily going! It’s all about meeting people and making connections.
- But I won’t know anyone there…
You will, as soon as you hand out your first card or introduce yourself; plus, lots of people there won’t know anyone either!
- People are always already in groups…
This is a continuation of the above point; they’re only in groups because they beat you to it by a few seconds! Break in, say hi to the nearest person and you’re in too. See – easy!
- I didn’t meet anyone useful at the last event I went to, so why should I bother going again?
Well, that happens sometimes. Try to think beyond the immediate use of meeting someone. My theory is that you are likely to meet at least one interesting (or semi-interesting!) person in a room full of people (if we are to be less generous to all those around us!). If you meet at least one cool person, you’ve made an excellent use of your time. I met my colleague and business partner by chance at an event in Los Angeles some years ago which prompted me to change careers and bring a business to HK… so you really never know what path you might be led to or find yourself considering.
As for networking itself…
I first came across the phrase “elevator pitch” in the first week of my first ‘real’ job when I worked at a communications agency in New York. It was something we helped devise for clients, to get their point across in under 30 seconds. If you, like me, have a general tendency to dislike sounding like you’re selling anything, this is a tough thing to master.
But actually, if you think about it, this is an absurd thing to take a dislike to, because almost everyone out there is selling something – a product, a message, your qualifications, an idea… so why can’t we just be honest about it or at least learn to feel comfortable with it?!
Having been on both sides of the situation (pitching and being pitched to), the trick seems to be in the way you sell what you’re selling – and that’s something I keep in mind when I’m out and about at networking events to meet potential clients or candidates, or even in client meetings (you can see what I do in my bio at the bottom!).
So my top three networking tips are:
1. Try to be yourself.
2. Create a couple of bullet points to remind yourself what you need to convey to strangers or fleeting acquaintances.
3. Even if people expect you to give them a script, don’t necessarily stick to said script! You’ll sound robotic or miss striking a genuine rapport with your audience.
I know it sounds basic, but so many people forget simple conversation skills when they are dressed up and swilling the obligatory glass of wine in networking situations with potential employers, clients or any other set of people you might want to avoid spilling a drink on yourself in front of!
So my top piece of advice – just brush off those jitters and get out there!
P.S. We’ve heard many questions on how to network smartly using social media, so keep your eyes peeled for some of Sai’s social media focused tips and tricks soon.
Sai Pradhan runs a search firm, Trufflepig Search finding senior level PR, marketing, social media/digital and other communications professionals for client companies. She’s previously worked in PR agencies, written for an online newspaper and worked as a PR and headhunting consultant overseas. After moving to Hong Kong, Sai now also co-organises the social-media focused networking event, HKSocial. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @SaiSays.