The majority of people are naturally introverts, particularly in professional settings. However, in most lines of work, that warm and cosy shell is more often than not, a limiting wall – proper networking will open numerous doors that would otherwise have remained closed to a young professional.
So, for those that are not naturally outgoing, this is a list of tips to help you master the art of networking at events.
- Go with others
If you are new to professional events, it helps to attend with one or two people that you already know. This can help boost your confidence so that you don’t feel self-conscious sitting by yourself. Attending with other people also opens you up to their network of professionals and you can get introduced to people you ordinarily would not have met.
- But don’t (just) speak to those you already know
Even though, you should attend networking events with people you know, resist the temptation to stay glued to their side throughout the event. One of the major reasons to attend professional events is to meet other people and expand your network, thus, speaking only to people you already know throughout the event defeats the purpose.
- Don’t be in a hurry to leave
If you are attending a seminar or business training, know that the events of the day have not ended when the training session is over. In fact, in most cases, the activities that take place after the formal session would be more beneficial to you as a young professional than the training session itself.
So, except, you absolutely have to, don’t be in a hurry to leave. Stick around and interact with other delegates using the tips in this article.
- Ask questions
If the event is a seminar or other event where topical issues are discussed, contribute to the discussion by asking questions and/or sharing your opinion. This makes you more visible and could also serve as a conversation starter for persons who approach you or those you approach afterwards.
- Don’t stay glued to the food table
Networking events often mean food; free food. However, staying glued to the food table makes you appear uncultured and will also cause you to miss out on the ample opportunities that networking events offer. If it helps, ensure that you do not attend a networking event, particularly the more high-end ones on an empty stomach.
In the same vein, keep your alcohol consumption to a manageable level, no matter how much the hosts encourage you to drink. It would be unfortunate to attend a networking event hoping to impress, only to embarrass yourself in front of your colleagues. First impressions certainly count and you want to be remembered, but for the right reasons.
- Appear approachable
Smile and greet people if your eye catches theirs. A lot of people are equally hesitant about approaching strangers in a professional gathering, but if you appear amiable, they are more likely to gravitate towards you.
- Join group discussions
Again, there is safety in numbers. If you are normally a shy person, you can ease yourself into speaking with strangers at an event by joining group conversations. However, note the body language of the group that you are approaching so that you do not awkwardly walk in on a private conversation.
Where you are attending the event with a colleague or friend, it would normally be okay to walk in on a group discussion that they are a part of.
- Prepare an “elevator pitch”
In a professional event, you can certainly expect the question “so what do you do” many times, so prepare a 15-second response to that question.
Any shorter and you might appear uninterested or uninteresting, and any longer and you make it come across as if you are giving an actual elevator pitch as opposed to simply making a new friend/connection.
Your responses should also be engaging enough to create a natural flow to the conversation – consider using stories.
- But don’t make it all about you
Professional events are full of people who are simply waiting for the opportunity to tell others what they do and shove business cards into their hands.
You can stand out by being different – do not think of these events merely as marketing opportunities. Take the occasion to genuinely get to know people. Ask people about their work as well, repeat what they have said back to them, remember their names. People are more likely to remember you when you make them feel important.
- Don’t just look for the bigwigs
Another common mistake people make at networking events is thinking that the outing has been successful only when they have given an MD, Chairman or CEO their business card.
Most of the time, it is just as worthwhile to interact with those who are yet to get to the top echelon of their organizations. For lawyers, this would be the Associates, Senior Associates and business support staff. These people are first, more likely to be available for an in-depth conversation. Second, it’s easier to speak and relate with them; they understand where you’re coming from and could put in a recommendation with their boss if you play your cards right. Executives are more likely to grant opportunities to someone who comes recommended from their staff, than to a total stranger.
Volunteering to assist with the planning and execution of professional events gives you a backstage pass to access to the participants and the speakers. It is a very good way to meet these people in an environment where they do not feel that you are simply out to get something.
When volunteering, treat the role like you would treat a paid job – carry out your tasks professionally, and go over and beyond.
Yimika Adesola is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Legally Engaged. She is a corporate lawyer with a diploma in Human Resource Management, described by This Day Newspaper as “a young and clever lawyer who has been blessed with foresight”.
In her professional legal career, Yimika has advised an assortment of sophisticated Nigerian and international clients on various areas of law including mergers, acquisitions and capital raisings, restructurings, taxation, finance, employment, compliance, etc.
She provides direction to thousands of students and young professionals by providing them with the information they need to launch successful careers and make better career decisions. Follow Yimika on LinkedIn here.