This summer has been a very productive one for me, working full-time and also managing to attend a number of events. The majority or should I say the events that have stuck out for me have been the networking events. Each with a different style and purpose, some great and some not so great. I can say that I have met a lot of people this summer via networking at such events and also online.
I’m going, to be honest, this has been a whole new experience for me. Before I even knew what networking was and the value of networking I would say that I unintentionally would network with people – but this was mainly online or through friends. I would never dare to go to an event to meet new people. This may be due to age, and I guess discovering the importance behind connecting with new people.
So…What is networking? Networking is ‘simply interacting with others to exchange information and develop a professional or social contact’. Many people may not be so drawn to attend networking events simply because it sounds like its something that business moguls attend and sip on expensive wine. This isn’t the case, if you think about it, you network all the time via social media. It is literally the same thing in real life.. yes REAL life. Networking online is all fun and games until you are put in a situation where you have to interact with real people but cannot even hold a conversation because you’re so wrapped up in your tiny cyber world.
Networking events allow you to meet people with vision and plans. It’s amazing to meet so many young people with such big goals and visions for their lives and how they want to impact the lives around them. Personally, I think everyone should attend networking events, whether you already have a business, are thinking of starting one or have no idea what you want to do. You can be inspired by the many conversations you have. Networking events can also force growth; they allow you to be inspired by either other young people or older people you may look up to.
You can network anywhere. However, not everyone has the confidence or ability to do so. Personally, I hate networking events that just leave you to network. I do not see the point when I could easily attend a conference/seminar and approach people there, or I could easily approach people online. I find that the best networking events for me are the ones that have some game element which forces interaction. Otherwise, you can find that people like to stay in groups or just mingle with people they already know. It is uncomfortable at first, such events create a space for you to build upon your confidence to be able to approach others. People who hold networking events need to be mindful that not everyone is used to networking.
A few things to be mindful of when networking
- Always ask questions do not allow the conversation to be one-sided. Take an interest in the other person yes you are there to sell yourself, but that doesn’t mean you should talk forever – keep it short and simple this is why it is essential to prepare. Less is more. If your answers provoke questions, then proceed to give an answer. A few questions that always spark conversation: What is your overall goal? What do you hope to achieve in the future? What makes you happy about what you do? Why are you here? How did your idea come about?
- Be different, be yourself – There will be people there that have the same vision as you. You need to think about how you can stand out from the others. I have learnt that no idea is new it’s all about the approach and how you execute it. What is your unique selling point? What can you offer that nobody else can offer?
- Do not ramble on and give away too much – This is a problem I have, I can get carried away and start discussing my future plans, and I’m sure a few others are guilty of doing the same. I would avoid doing this; not everything happens overnight it is a process. If it is not happening right now, do not disclose it instead talk about the here and now. What is going on for you here and now? And not what you hope is going to happen. You won’t be taken seriously; there is nothing wrong with not having anything going on now as long as you have the vision it’s all good. Just be honest do not try to impress too much.
- Stay on topic and pay attention Do not listen to give a response, listen attentively to what is being said. I know it can be intimidating you want to make a good impression and ensure that you have an answer or question by the time they are done. Allow them to speak don’t force it, let the conversation flow and understand that if it goes silent..silence can be a good thing! It is only as awkward as you make it out to be. Imagine if you were speaking about something you were passionate about and the recipient was interrupting you or looking around you would be able to tell that they are not interested in what you have to say. It’s the little things like listening that help. Learn to listen twice as much as you speak and the results will amaze you.
- Connect with everyone – Be open to meeting new people, don’t go with the mindset of ‘I need to connect with a particular individual’. It’s nice to have a set contact goal, but you never know what could happen through another person. You could meet someone who could point you in the direction of the desired contact. I don’t usually have a contact goal. I am open to meeting new people as I like connecting other people. I always try to get the contact details of people I connect with just in case someone I know might need that person in the future. Never disregard people at networking events, you never know one contact can land you your next job or even your next business opportunity!! I honestly cannot stress this enough, just because someone is not popular or does not have a large following do not disregard them because you never know what the future holds for that individual.
The tricky stage is the end of the conversation when you’re trying to part ways and want to get their contact details. Simply ask them if they wouldn’t mind sharing their contact details or ask them whether they have a business card. Don’t waste your time having meaningless conversations – you are there to get their contact details don’t be shy ask. They cannot say no; they are there to network that’s the whole point. If they do not want to work with you, they can just ignore you when you contact them (which is rude) but better than not getting their contact at all.