How to network effectively face-to-face

With so many online opportunities to connect and interact with new contacts in your professional field, some people are often unsure where to start when it comes to networking in the real world.

For many of today’s young professionals, networking plays an important part in building a successful career, but how do you find your feet and overcome the fear of making small talk with a room full of strangers?

Let’s delve into a few easy tips and conversation starters to help you get the most from your networking opportunities – and remember, the whole purpose of networking is to build relationships – it’s not about the hard sell.

Know your event: Use the event or the venue itself as a conversation starter – it’s an easy way to find some common ground; “Have you been to this conference before?” – “Attendance looks higher than last year, it’s a great turnout!” This will stimulate natural discussion and removes the temptation to fall back on classic small talk about the weather!

Ask for advice: Asking for advice can be both a conversation starter as well as a good way of learning and gathering information. If the person did attend the same event last year, ask if they found it beneficial, what they got out of it as a result and if there are any other events they recommend attending. Everyone loves to offer their own opinion and advice, so capitalise on that fact and look for opportunities to ask questions.

Brush up on current news: Has there been anything significant hitting headlines recently that is likely to be a relevant talking point? Take note of the main facts and consider what your opinion is on the story so that you can strike up a conversation, or at least contribute.

Take a quick glance at the day’s newest headlines before heading to the event as well so that you’re not caught off guard by talk of news you’re unware of.

Ditch the elevator pitch:  People buy from people…it’s an age-old phrase, but it still rings true today. It is far more powerful to have an engaging conversation rather than hiding behind a sales pitch, so be authentic! Good networking is about building rapport and ensuring that those you meet remember your conversation for the right reasons. Start off on the right foot, build relationships and new opportunities will follow – don’t expect to ‘seal the deal’ on the day.

Use business cards wisely: Networking is not about how many business cards you can give away, you should use them wisely and request one in return from anyone you’re genuinely interested in connecting with following the event.

Work the room: While engaging in lengthy conversation with particular people of interest will work wonders for memorability, it’s important to make the most of the event and speak to more than just a handful of people – you never know who you might miss! Don’t be afraid to close a conversation, just be tactful – “It’s been great to meet you, I’d better circulate and meet a few more people but let’s catch up next week” – cue business card exchange!

Be an introducer: As you’re networking with different people, consider whether it’s worth introducing them to someone you talked to earlier. People will always remember who introduced them to someone useful, and will be inclined to repay the favour and do the same for you.

Follow up: Don’t let all your hard work go to waste. Set some time aside the following day to consider who you want to reach out to and why. Connect with them on a professional network and pop them an email to arrange that catch up you promised for the following week.

Effective networking can and will open up a whole host of possibilities for you professionally when done correctly and with confidence. Incorporate these tips and put yourself out there – after all, practice makes perfect!