Let’s face it.
Networking is not everyone’s cup of tea.
You might be the most gregarious person in the office but you can still feel somewhat unwell and tempted to pull a sickie when faced with the prospect of having to meet strangers.
Feelings of dread, inadequacy and nervousness can become even more activated if you feel pressure to turn new contacts into new clients or feel you have to ‘measure up’ or ‘perform’ in a certain way.
Having run so many ‘Women in Sustainability’ events now, I thought I’d take the opportunity ahead of the three WINS Network Hub events in Bristol, London and Newcastle coming up over the next fortnight, to share some of the best approaches to networking I’ve seen (and subsequently adopted!). Not the final word by any means, but I hope you find these suggestions helpful, and empower you to network with more confidence, ease and success.
1.Reach out to connect with others before the event
Walking into a room when you know a couple of folks already feels completely different from entering a room full of strangers. Whilst not many events may post full delegate lists ahead of time, with a little bit of detective work, you can find out who is going to be there and get in touch.
For all of our Women in Sustainability Network Hub events, a list of attendees can be found at the end of the Eventbrite booking page. Whilst we currently only publish the first name, first letter of the surname and organisation or company, if you search in LinkedIn, chances are you will find that person. If there are one or two people listed you’d really like to meet, why not send a message asking to be connected, adding that all important accompanying message explaining you think they are attending ‘xyz’ Women in Sustainability event and get the ball rolling from there.
2. Prepare a simple explanation of what you do, but make it interesting – Experiment!
A lot of us don’t like talking about ourselves and can fall into the trap of being instantly un-memorable because we can’t say who we are or what we do in a way that is engaging.
I’m sorry to say that just reeling off your job title isn’t the best way to grab people’s attention. There are many traps we can fall into. For example, rambling on for too long and using jargon. The simplest way to resolve this is to work out a brief statement that describes the difference you make, not what you do.
For example. don’t tell me you’re a sustainability consultant. Tell me you work with SMEs to resolve their supply chain problems and reduce child slavery, or that you champion small ethical businesses to large corporates. Search for the real heart of what you do and identify the key problem you solve. Write that out in a number of different ways and find the iteration that jumps up at you. Test it out with a few colleagues, test it out at a few events, notice what works and what doesn’t. Don’t be afraid to experiment!
3. Connect with the Event and/ or the event organiser on social media
Twitter is a great place to approach people ‘cold’ as it were. Most events will have a hashtag they’ll be using for the event and will probably start using that ahead of time, as well as during the event itself, to help build engagement.
Find out what that is and look to see who is using it. Strike up a conversation with folks you think you’d like to meet and hey presto, you’ll have at least one or two people all lined up to chat with over the first coffee break.
We use #WINSNetwork in many of our tweets running up to and during an event. Just double check you’re following the right location (as we grow out Hubs into Oxford and Manchester early next year, we may also start introducing specific hashtags for each Hub) and there you go!
4. Three’s a crowd to break into
One of the things I used to find tricky in the past, was knowing how to get started with my networking at a conference or networking event. I’ve subsequently learnt, and have observed, that going up to a group of three people and asking ‘May I join you?’ works best.
With three, someone will engage with you and at best, you can find out about everyone in the group, as well as introduce yourself, before conversation may naturally slip into talking in a pair. Yes, you may find yourself feeling a little frustrated if you discover it’s the ‘other pair’ you want to start talking to. But better that than joining of group of two and realising with horror, you broke up a deep conversation, which they now resume, leaving you standing there like a lemon.
Our Women in Sustainability events always pull a very friendly, welcoming crowd, so don’t worry about how you’ll be received. But if you are in any doubt, three is the best group to break into.
5. Have a couple of exit strategies ready
There are only so many times you can use ‘I just need to get a coffee’ or “I just need to pop to the ladies’. Whilst successful networking is never about the number of people you exchange business cards with (it’s all about building up quality contacts and developing relationships), there does come a time when you know you need to move on but feel a bit stuck with the person to whom you are talking.
The best way I’ve seen this handled is by being up front about it. You’re both there to meet people – so why not just say it! Phrases I’ve had used on me that felt sincere and friendly have been:
It’s been a pleasure talking with you – shall we now split up and go meet new people?
I know you must want to meet some more people here as well as me, let’s exchange cards and I’ll let you go mingle.
Is there anyone here you really want to meet? I do have a couple of folks I want to connect with / I’ve arranged to meet up with etc so I should try and find them – it’s been a pleasure talking with you…
If this feels really alien for you, just practice a few lines out loud in your bathroom at home before you go, say it with a smile and you won’t go wrong!
Networking is a bit of an art and as they say, practice does make perfect. So come along to one of our events this Autumn and get your networking mojo rolling!
Find out more about our Women in Sustainability Network Hub events this November here.