Overcoming the networking inertia

Overcoming the networking inertia

Networking is important. It’s a fact. And although its an unfortunate fact for some, a select few are blessed with the gift of the gab. They’re able to strike up a conversation as easily as a match. For the rest of us, it’s not so easy. In a sea of people, how do you find the relationships you need? The best opportunities to further your goals? Where do you even start?

The idea of networking can leave even the hardiest operators frozen to the spot. Its only natural. However, there are ways to overcome networking fears. In a world where who you know matters as much as what you know these pieces of advice may just help in finding the community that can help you reach the next level.

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Mindset

It’s a simple concept, but one people often forget. Most people, no matter how confident they at first appear, has been that person. Staying close to the walls, avoiding eye contact. Drink in hand, but still with a dry mouth. The truth is that everyone is human and that good interactions are a byproduct of many, many, conversations. Recognise that the most significant growth comes when you’re outside your comfort zone. Just by being at an event, you’ve surrounded yourself with people who want you to help them just as much you do.

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Come with a plan

The sheer number of attendees can make events seem overwhelming at times. But not all people will bring value to you. Indeed not all events will. Engaging in prior research will mean you’ll know which events to target and which individuals you can prioritise meeting. Organisers will often provide a list of attendees. So have a look through these and dig a little into their careers, experiences, and interests. This not only gives you an idea of what they can bring to the table, but also who they are as a person. This can come in useful later, allowing you to bring up relevant threads of conversation that you know will engage them. Going one step further and contacting them in advance, through email or Linkedin, can develop a sense of familiarity. After all, it’s far easier to introduce yourself if there’s already a name to a face.

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Starting conversation

Having a few informal openings in your back pocket can go a long way to building rapport. Instead of jumping straight in with a low-key sales pitch, why not simply start with an open question? This not only saves you the stress of tailoring individual introductions, it also invites a back-and-forth discussion and takes the initial fear out of thinking of what to say. If you’ve just attended a talk, a line such as “what’d you make of the talk, then?” or a simple “what brings you here today?” are great examples of conversation starters. The more relevant to the environment a question, the more likely the chance of getting a deeper, more thoughtful response.

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Keep it going

It’s important that you don’t feel the need to talk and force your side of the conversation. After all, if there’s one trait that links all good networkers, it’s not talking, but listening. Think of every piece of information as a new, unforseen avenue to explore. By paying full attention you can take stock of every opportunity that lies within each sentence, simultaneously giving the speaker a real sense that they are valued. When you do talk, always try to have an idea of what you want to achieve in the back of your mind, and use it to guide the conversation in that direction.

It’s fine to take the scenic route. Everyone at an event is there for the same reason. Sooner or later, business talk will naturally make its way into conversation. Forcing the issue can come across as too forward – a no-go for genuine relationships. Planning ahead also gives you the ability to hold some relevant questions in your arsenal. You only need a couple per person, conversations will expand naturally from a single topic.

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Early bird catches the worm

Nothing is worse than arriving at an event only to see ring-fenced groups, already engaged deep in conversation. Breaking into these can often feel like gatecrashing some secret members-only club, leaving even experienced networkers on the outside looking in. Arriving early allows you to get your bearings, settle your nerves and become the nuclei for growing discussion. As more people arrive you may even find yourself being introduced to other relevant attendees by members of the early bird society. In the same vein, there’s no need to stay until the end of an event. If you feel that you’ve executed your plan within the first two hours, just leave. Talking to people with little relevance to your field won’t be a productive use of time.

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First impressions

You might have the greatest idea in the world, or a vision that can change industries. You may feel that you’re the missing piece in someone else’s puzzle. But none of it counts if you can’t persuade people of the same. It’s said that language is eighty percent visual cues, and therefore giving yourself credibility through appearance and body language is vital. Look the part and chances are you’re more likely to feel the part too. Ensuring your wardrobe is up to scratch goes without saying, complimenting it with a relaxed posture – chin up, shoulders back, ensures you’ll definitely feel in place. Open body language is not only shown to make people look more approachable, it also makes you appear more confident. A self-fulfilling prophecy as more people begin to converse with you.

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Take a break

Not everyone is a natural extrovert, and even those who are will need a rest every now and then. Networking can be draining, physically, emotionally and mentally so taking time out can be a good strategy. Leaving the event space, be it a conference hall or fair, is always a useful approach, the change of scenery helping you to refresh, rejuvenate and head back with renewed focus.

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Follow up

The hardest part may be over but people often follow up contacts without a system in place, undoing much of the good work. Creating a simple spreadsheet or notepad with the names of people you’ve talked to and key points from your conversations can go a long way from turning a lead into a client or an idea into reality. A quick phone call, email or even a thank you note can help establish a relationship beyond the concrete walls of a conference centre. Just strike while the iron is hot and you’re fresh in their memory.

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Think outside the box

Networking is a skill, but it does not have to be daunting. Like all skills it will become easier the more you do it. Eventually, you might even find it enjoyable – forming the connections and a community to help yourself and all those you meet. However it’s also important to recognise that networking has moved beyond the confines of select occasions. The social principles that underlie a good approach and conversation remain the same. But in a world where businesses are breaking down barriers and forgoing their silos, it’s now becoming easier to network than ever. Think of networking events as an arena to hone your skills, but also recognise that there’ll be opportunity in every place you look – be it a train, a coffee house, or a coworking space. The latter especially are great for gathering complimentary minds in a relaxed and productive setting. The possibilities are endless. And with good networking skills yours will be too.

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Uncommon takes pride in helping businesses thrive. Our workspaces are designed with your wellbeing in mind. Every single detail helps create an environment in which you can feel good about where and how you work. Visit our locations in Borough, Highbury & Islington, and Fulham to experience our unique vision of working life.

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