As in meeting people. Not routers, switches, IP addresses and stuff.
I mentioned in the previous post about sales and marketing, that networking is an easy initial step. I have an entire presentation I’ve given on this so thought I’d share some of the more practical points here to hopefully help make networking a little more approachable. I’ll write more on the “why” at a later date but for now I’m assuming you’ve decided it’s something that you might want to do, so here’s some tips to do it with some confidence.
Register for events
Duh. Whilst this might seem obvious, it’s actually a really important step. It’s so easy to put it off and keep finding excuses not to attend something. “I’m not sure if I’ll have something else on”, “The weather looks bad”, “I don’t know if it’s right for me”, “I’ll register later”, stop. Just sign up for something. At first, you don’t need to be too choosy about what you go to. Much like everything else, you’ll get better at it so don’t wait for the biggest, best event in the hopes you’ll only need to do it once. Make your mistakes on less significant, informal meetups so when you do get your invite to the royal palace, you’ll know how to handle yourself.
Once you’ve registered for an event (or even better, several), make sure to put it in your calendar and stick to it. As someone who organises events, no-shows are one of the hardest things to manage, particularly if you’re providing food/drinks/swag etc. Don’t be that person.
Doing a bit of research and leg work before the event, will make things far, far easier for when you actually get there. Here’s some pre-event homework to get on with.
Where is it?
Find the address, look it up on google maps, check it on street view and even better, see if you can get an idea of the internal layout. Not knowing exactly where you’re going can cost you lots of time and result in you arriving flustered, hot and bothered or even completely miss it.
Who else is going?
This is really, really useful. If you can find out who will be there, either people who’ve mentioned they’re going on social media or if the event provides an attendee list, you’ll be at a significant advantage. You can make a point of finding who you especially want to meet and do a bit of research on them. Don’t be afraid of appearing too familiar with someone, it will be a compliment to someone who’s work you’re already aware of and will give you a load of material to engage them in conversation with.
Who are the organisers, speakers, sponsors etc?
These will likely be key influencers in the room so it can pay dividend to know who they are and what they do. Not only might they prove good connections themselves but they’ll also be well connected to lots of other people in the room that you can get introduced to.
Engage before the event
Now you know who else is going to be there, don’t be afraid to reach out to them before the event. Either by email or social media. Don’t be pushy but acknowledge their presence and suggest it would be good to have a chat. This can line you up with someone to talk to before you’ve even stepped in the room. It also gives other people a chance to find out about you and what you’re doing.
Just before the event, you’re very likely to feel some trepidation about the whole thing. Possibly even try to find an excuse not to go. Resist the temptation and go.
The following simple tips will help you blag your way through any event you ever attend.
The easiest way to be interesting is to be interested – Dale Carnegie
This is all you need to do.
Seriously, read that again, it’s the key to successful networking. Being interested has several benefits:
- People like to talk, especially about themselves.
- Listening will help someone build trust in you.
- You’ll get free skills/knowledge about their areas of expertise.
- People will like you.
So how do we be interested?
Questions, questions, questions
Another preparation exercise to do is to brainstorm as many questions as you can possibly think of. Review them, pick the best ones and memorise them. Having an arsenal of questions at your disposal will help avoid any of those uncomfortable silences we all dread.
- What do you do?
- How long have you been doing that?
- Where are you based?
- How did you get into that?
- Does it involve a lot of travel?
- What would be your advice for someone who wants to get into…?
There’s loads of resources online for these kind of questions. Get good enough at asking questions and you could go to Bee Keeping-Con 2017 and no one would doubt your enthusiasm for it. Get really good at it and you can apply the knowledge you pick up from one person and apply it to the next, before you know it you’ll be seen as an expert in bee keeping yourself!
But do be genuine though. The point isn’t to appear as if you’re the cleverest person in the room. The aim is to make meaningful connections with useful people who you genuinely get along with. There’s nothing fulfilling about doing work with someone you don’t get along with.
Re-read the last question from the examples above. This is a key takeaway from this post. Absolutely DO ask for advice from the people you meet. People like to be given the chance to voice their opinion. In my experience they are more than willing to offer their advice when consulted for it. This has a double benefit, not only do you get some probably useful input but you also get an investment. If someone gives you some advice then they are investing a little bit of their expertise into you. If you then go and act on that advice, it’s in their interests to see that their advice pays dividend for the sake of their credibility (or at the very least, ego). Because of this they’ll be keen to see you succeed so they can be reassured that their opinion matters and they know what they’re talking about.
You’re asking questions, building rapport, trust and receiving advice. So LISTEN. Be attentive, show you’re listening and actually take heed of what is being said. Of course it’s courteous but you are likely being told some extremely valuable information. If someone is giving you their time and their knowledge the least you can do is respect that and make sure you’re listening and not just waiting for your next opportunity to speak. If you get the chance, take some notes after your conversation. If you were given a business card, it can be a useful place for brief notes to help you remember who they were when you look back or if not, use your phone.
After the event
To get maximum value from an event, don’t just breath a sigh of relief that it’s over and never think of it again. Now is the chance to really make the most of your hard work so far.
Make contact with everyone you spoke to. Drop them an email to thank them for their time and let them know you appreciated their discussion.
Demonstrate that you listened
As we mentioned, their advice was an investment in you so remind them of it. Show them you’re acting on it so they’re inclined again to see you succeed based on their input. If you’re offering programming services and someone has given you advice that you’ve followed, the next time they’re in a position that they become aware of a need for programming services, they’ll be more inclined to think of you and because they want to see you succeed, they’ll hopefully pass on your details.
Ask for more help
You might have met someone who mentioned a contact that would be useful. Or who had a useful link that you should look at. Whatever it may be, do ask for them to follow through with that offer. Even if it doesn’t work out it’s another opportunity to open up lines of communication and stay present in their minds.
People are busy so respect their time. Don’t send them war and peace because chances are it won’t get read. Keep it short and sweet and not too pushy. Leave the ball in their court and don’t feel aggrieved if you don’t hear back right away or not at all. People are generally not brilliant at staying on top of their email so don’t worry if yours falls through the cracks. You want to leave things amicable so if you see them at a future event you can be confident in approaching them again. For example:
Hi Fiona, Great to meet you last night at the event. I really appreciate your advice and will certainly be working on my portfolio as you suggested. You mentioned someone at Wibble ltd you could introduce me to, if you get a chance that would be amazing but please don't worry if it's in any way a bother. Hope to see you at the next event! Dan
Now get out there and go meet some people! Let me know how it goes or if you have any questions.
#adventblogging post 21 of 24 see the rest.