"Networking is an investment in your business. It takes time and when done correctly can yield great results for years to come." - Diane Helbig
While connecting with others online is easier than ever, nothing beats an old-fashioned, face-to-face meet up or introduction. And let’s be honest: those introductions will happen all the time, especially outside of strictly professional events - often at dinner parties, weddings, and social events such as Ascot or others of the same style.
This article came from a personal experience from our coach Victoria Salem, also founder of The Golden Network, who recently experienced being invited to Ascot and not knowing what to expect...
So, if you have an event coming up and aren’t sure how to inject yourself into a conversation, don’t worry. Here are a few tips for developing new professional contacts in any social setting. We hope you find those useful!
PrePARATION is key
Before you go to an event, try to identify who else will be there!
If you know people who plan to go, you can plan to meet there or go there together. Email those contacts ahead of time and make plans.
This will also allow you to research the history and background of other attendees, showing that you are interested in what they do and will surely help to make a good first impression. It will help you to find some common ground and possibly as well some shared connections.
If you are an introvert, having a structure will really help you. And the best way to create structure is in advance!
Break the Ice
Stepping into a crowded room or be socialising within a group you do not know can be intimidating. To put yourself at ease, prepare a short introduction before you arrive.
Your opener should include some context as to what brought you to the event. For example, if you’re at a Ascot, explain who invited you and how you know this person.
From there, engage in pleasant, friendly conversation. Discuss the latest news, entertainment, or even that old small talk staple the weather - anything but the tired, “What do you do?” - instead try “What brought you here?”.
Even though you should as much as possibly try to keep the conversation social, someone will certainly ask how you make a living. And when they do, and be transparent.
If you’re out of work, mention you are looking and give a little information about what you’re looking for but keep it conversational. Believe it or not, most people do want to help other people. If no one jumps in with ideas, simply continue the conversation as if you weren’t looking for work. Because guests are there to have a good time and not think about work, it can be off-putting to have someone droning on endlessly about their qualifications.
Don’t Overdo It
If you think you are in the same room or event as someone that could really change your career trajectory. Now what?
First, resist the temptation to interrupt the conversation and pull this person aside. If you are approaching an animated group you’d like to join, stand on the periphery with nice and agreeable body language. Most likely, someone will make eye contact and include you. At that point, be friendly and blend in to the conversation.
It is all about grabbing opportunities so if you really feel this is a once-in-a-lifetime that you cannot let slip by, go about it but do it gracefully. Start by saying, ‘I am so glad I had a chance to meet you. Do you have a moment?’ If you are able to step away from the group, this is not a 20-minute upchuck of your resume. Instead, say something like ‘So-and-so said you are the go-to person for...’ and then keep it brief. Exchange business cards and be very respectful of that person’s time.
Last but not least, engage in conversations and avoid pitching people. Stay away from the mindset “What can you do for me?" and instead be focused on what you can add and possibly bring to the table that could benefit them.
Be yourself and be a good listener.
Follow Up and Follow Through
If you meet someone in a social setting who could be a very useful contact, your goal should actually be to move the relationship forward and into that more professional setting.
Within two days of making this new connection, send an email letting that person know you enjoyed meeting him or her, and suggest that you continue your initial conversation over a cup of coffee.
Try something like: “It was really great meeting you and chatting with you at Ascot on Wednesday. I would love to hear more about what you do and what you’re working on - if you have a spare moment next week, I would love to meet again for a coffee.”
Better yet, if you can offer your new connection something useful, do so. This isn’t always possible, but if there’s some way that you can help that person, based on the initial conversation you had, then take the opportunity to do so in that initial follow-up.
Give them some helpful information or include a link to an article you thought they would find interesting. Don’t force it, though. This is only effective if it is relevant.
When it comes to expanding your circle, think of networking as a lifestyle rather than simply a work-style.
Going into a social situation armed with a smile, a ready intro, and some light topics can help get the conversation started and your connections growing.
And do not forget to simply have fun while networking!!
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