A post I’ve been brewing for a few weeks now. It’s a hard admission to make as a ‘business person’, and that is that I find networking really hard.
A scene like this can, and has, been known on occasion to fill me with internal dread.
This is despite the fact that;
a) I’ve been to (and promoted) a LOT of networking events, such as the excellent She Who Dares Wins.
b) I’m more than happy to talk about what I do to anyone and everyone and I love finding new ways to big up South Coast Social (click on that link, why don’t ya 😉 )
c ) I’m not really the shy, retiring type.
So why does the thought of ‘networking’ fill me with a little inner fear? I thought I would have think about why this is and if I was alone. So, I sent out a little tweet;
and had a chat with several friends who are successful business owners and entrepreneurs. On the whole, I was suprised to hear I’m not the only one. One of them actually mentioned feeling a bit sick whenever she had to enter The Room Full Of People – and she’s one of the most glossy, confident and successful people I personally know. Is it a natural emotion maybe, unless you’re an insanely confident person that just bursts onto the networking scene champagne/coffee/doughnut in hand ready to schmooze, mingle and big up what you do?
Networking ‘events’ seem to be forever on the increase, especially in a town like Bournemouth (where I’m based) where the competition between those in the creative/marketing industries means it’s often who, not what you know that secures you a foot in the door with a potential new contact or client. And I fully understand this – after all people tend to do business with those that are recommended to them by someone whose opinion they trust. A simple Google search demonstrates the wide variety of networking events in Bournemouth alone, taking on various formats – from a ‘talk’ from a designated expert or a chat with a panel followed by ‘coffee and mingling’ to breakfast meetings with a speaker or an organised dinner. There are even a new breed of networking events that include an activity such as learning to wind surf, etc!
So, next up I probably should address the ‘female thing’.
Yes, womens only networking events are A Thing. And I’ve been to a few. I can see the good points – gender inequality is also A Thing and perhaps – no, in fact it probably is good to have an organised forum where women can maybe have the confidence to speak out where they might not at a mixed event.
The more male dominated networking events I have been to have tended to be less social and more business focussed. There’s less small talk and more ‘so, what do you do’ that’s actually cloaking a ‘and how is it going to help what I do’. And this is (in general), the difference.
Where the womens networking events are more geared at ‘getting women ahead in business’, the men at mixed events are all about ‘getting me ahead in business’. I guess it depends what you’re hoping to get out of the event – if you want support and advice from other business owners and you feel a more female focussed group is the best way of doing that then there’s no denying that can only be a positive thing, but if you are there to promote what you do and get you and your business credentials noticed then perhaps there’s something in the way men tend to ‘do’ networking.
SO, whoever you are here’s my top (unisex!) tips for attending networking events and appearing full of confidence!
- Take a deep breath. Before you enter the room. It helps to calm your nerves and focus.
- Remember, it’s ok not to know anyone. After all, that’s why everyone is there. Sometimes, the people in groups already chatting are simply the people who’ve gone up to someone and said hi.
- Get your bearings. Get a coffee. Look around for someone to introduce yourself to.
- Ask questions, especially open ended ones – approach someone with a simple ‘hi, I’m ***’ , I do ***. What’s your business all about?’
- Have a short summary of your business in your head ready to trot out. This has helped me a lot – in reality my company covers a plethora of marketing services but I lead with a simple ‘we offer bespoke marketing services to small businesses’, then let the other person ask a more specific question if they’re interested.
- Do your research. Most networking events release details of attendees, the organisers and the speaker (if there is one) prior to the event. Identify people you want to connect with. Think up some talking points – just 2-3 is fine.
- Take your phone (switched onto silent). If you connect with someone that you can see yourself working with in the future, send them a LinkedIn request straightaway. Follow them on Twitter. They then have your details and you can follow up after the event.
- Use social media. Many events have a designated hashtag – a few discreet photos shared and a thank you to the organiser can be a great way of identifying yourself to those looking for the event after it’s taken place.
- Don’t put pressure on yourself. Remember, if you just make one valuable connection then that in inself could be more than worth the effort.
How do you feel about networking events? Do they provide a valuable business opportunity?