Networking and ‘schmoozing’ isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. So, if the very prospect fills you with dread, you’re far from alone. Whilst some people can work a room with effortless aplomb, positively feeding off the experience, for others it feels forced, inauthentic and, frankly, cringeworthy. Sounding familiar? Then, welcome to the club, but rest assured, help is at hand!
Love it or loathe it, networking can’t always be avoided completely, and so, whatever your beef with it, building your confidence and skills in this area will only ever serve you well. Whether it is moving to a new neighbourhood, embarking on a new job or career, launching a business, joining a new school community or simply establishing and maintaining your professional presence and reputation, there will always be a need to network to a certain extent, at various times in your personal and professional life. The key to networking confidently and effectively lies in establishing a strategy and approach that works for you, fits with your personal purpose, and, bit by bit, generates results, boosting your confidence and appetite for it in equal measure. We’ve identified some key steps that will help you to feel more at ease in any networking scenario.
- Start With ‘Why’
Not just any old ‘why?’, but your ‘why?’. The road to confident and effective networking starts with introspection; after all, you won’t do the best job in articulating your unique qualities and values to others if you’re feeling a little hazy on what they are yourself. Be selfish and invest a little time reacquainting yourself, establishing your purpose, finding your ‘why’, and really getting to the very heart of what drives you (personally, as well as professionally). Figure that out first, and then you can move on to working out how you can help other people, and how they can help you. Which is, of course, precisely the point of networking.
Now, as daunting as all that soul-searching sounds, it doesn’t need to be. At FindMyWhy, we are all about identifying and establishing personal purpose, and our expertise is in helping to guide you effortlessly through and beyond this process of self-reflection. FindMyWhy is a completely free and bespoke personal purpose project, which helps you to define and articulate your unique inner values, establishing what lies at the very heart of who you are, the choices you make, and their impact on your sense of fulfilment. It starts with an online questionnaire – accessible anytime and anywhere, and developed by our expert team of psychologists – and results in informed, relevant guidance presented as a comprehensive report to absorb and refer back to whenever you need. You’ll also receive immediate and free access to a personal support pack containing bespoke toolkits and professional resources created to empower and support you in making your life and career goals happen – whether building confident networking skills, developing your elevator pitch, or going after your dream job. FindMyWhy will help you to understand more about your own value proposition and how best to apply it in a range of settings within the professional business world. FindMyWhy will help you to project and articulate the best version of you; confident, self-aware and focused.
- Establish Your Elevator Pitch
Your elevator pitch defines your value proposition. It conveys your unique selling point, or USP, quickly, memorably and succinctly, and is a perfect (in fact, essential) tool when networking. Much like the trailer of a film, or the blurb on the reverse cover of a book, your elevator pitch should give away enough about you to entice further interest. In that regard, it needs to sum up who you are, what you do and how you stand out from the crowd. Your elevator pitch is your personal bespoke selling tool; it is as individual as you are, and it needs to trip off the tongue with practiced, but natural ease. Writing an elevator pitch is easier said than done. Use the insight gained from your FindMyWhy report to assist you in zoning in on the right words to summarise who you are, what you do, why you do it, and how it helps or benefits others.
- Do Your Research
‘Forewarned is forearmed’, as the saying goes. Where possible, do as much research as you can about the event you are attending, the guest list (or likely attendees), and the host(s). Flattery gets you a long way, and nothing is more flattering than evidence that you’ve taken the time in advance to know a little about the people you meet. Whether it’s reading a few articles they’ve written, knowing something about them professionally, or pointing out mutual connections, you’ll find that conversation starts (and flows) much more fluidly as a result. Far better to embark on an introduction with open ended questions, and conversation starters that are personally relevant than by reverting to clichéd (and self-limiting) topics such as the weather or the train delays on the journey in.
- Structure Your Approach
Although you can’t be too prescriptive about how you will ‘work’ the event, you can certainly aim to play to your strengths:
- Let’s start with what you wear. The important thing is that you feel like you. In other words, dress appropriately for the event, but in a way which makes you feel comfortable in your own skin. This is not the time to experiment with a quirky new look, or indeed anything that is a considerable departure from your usual attire.
- Next up; your arrival strategy. You know yourself best, and if walking in to an event that’s already in full swing brings out your worst social fears (breaking into pre-formed conversation groups, or, worse still, trying to subtly make an entrance once a presentation is under way) then allow yourself plenty of time to arrive promptly. Being among the first to arrive will give you time to get your bearings, eliminate the stress of running late, not to mention the added bonus of being part of conversation groups as they form around you.
- Survey the room for a few seconds before you launch in. If you’ve done your research (and even if this were not possible – some events don’t come with predetermined guest lists), you should be able to identify someone who you’ll feel more inclined to gravitate to. Be it that you know them, you know of them (and therefore have a conversation opener at the ready), they’re standing on their own, or simply that they have a kind face – target the most approachable person / group and … well, approach them!
- Arm yourself with an exit strategy. ‘Working the room’ is often reported as the hardest part of networking, and if you struggle to find a polite way to move on from the first person you meet, then you simply need a few mentally rehearsed lines in your repertoire. Generally speaking, everyone is there for the same reason (whether it’s a social or professional event); that being, to circulate. So, its OK to be honest. Finding the right words and the right moment can be tricky, but mentioning that you need to catch up with a particular individual before they leave can be a good way to excuse yourself politely. Likewise, suggesting that you exchange contact details / business cards and, in some specific way, make further contact after the event can politely signify that you are ready to move on. And, of course, if you know others present, you can ‘pass the baton’, by making an introduction and then discreetly backing off.
- Set Clear Goals
You’re there for a purpose, but you’re more likely to fulfill that purpose if you break it down into achievable goals. Whether you commit to talking to a certain number of people, or resolve to make sure you don’t leave without introducing yourself to a particular individual, the more focused you are at the point when you walk in, the more likely you are to reap benefits.
Bear in mind though, that networking is not a quick and instant win. Effective networking takes an investment of time and, for those of us who don’t naturally relish the prospect, a little courage and fortitude! Networking is about finding, building and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships. Just like friendships, these take some nurturing and some sustained effort, but the more you put in, the more you’ll get back.
There’s no-one else like you. Your individuality is your greatest asset and FindMyWhy will help you to channel every unique element of yourself, so that you understand more about your personal purpose, your value proposition and how best to use it in any networking context. For more information simply visit our website, or click here to get started right away; it’s completely free.