How to: 7 tips for the networking-shy

Female Founders | Money Raised | Ep. 7
6th December 2018
Female Founders | Money Raised | Ep. 8
20th December 2018

The holidays are coming up and so are the festive networking events – time to work on your networking skills.

Anyone who gets shy at the idea of networking, or even dislikes it, may consider starting one herself. Ciara Byrne: “I organized my own networking event just to make it easier. Networking, to me, was pretending to like everyone who could help you progress professionally.  But lately I have realised that networking doesn’t have to be that way. Because really all it is is having a chat with someone interesting who you might not otherwise meet. Think of it as any Friday night in the pub.”

So here are a few tips for the networking-shy.

  1. Come prepared: If you are going to an event where you want to make a few contacts, find out about the people who will be there. Many conferences and networking events publish some basic background information on the attendees. You can then more easily identify those who you would like to meet and find out something about them. This provides you with a starting point for the conversation.
  2. Just say hello: This is the hard part. The best thing is just to go up to someone, say hello and ask them something, e.g. what did you think of the presenter? Until you are more confident avoid groups who seem to be in deep conversation. Pick someone who is also looking around for somebody to talk to or maybe two people who don’t seem too deeply engrossed in each other. Asking the speaker a question about his presentation is also a good way to get started.

  3. Find the sweet spot: Don’t discount anyone. You’d be surprised how the most grey corporate character can become fascinating if you get him on to a pet subject. Even if you have a conversation that has nothing to do with work, that can spark an idea which will benefit your business. So don’t only focus on people who are potential customers or partners. Allow for a bit of serendipity.

  4. Don’t be too pushy: If you are meeting someone who is a potential customer or can help you out in some way, don’t dive straight in and ask for favours. Allow your contact to like you first. Ask questions to which you genuinely want the answer. Make useful suggestions on a topic of interest to him. If there is an obvious stage in the conversation when it makes sense to mention your request (possibly indirectly) do so. Otherwise maybe follow up by asking him if he has time to meet later or call him to set up another meeting.

  5. Move on: There is nothing worse talking to someone who is visibly looking over your shoulder trying to spot somebody more important. However, there is often a point in the conversation when it makes sense to move on. The important thing is to do this gracefully. One trick is to introduce your networkee to somebody else and then beat a retreat. You can also say that you need to go and talk to the host/speaker/organiser.  Or just exchange cards, say it was nice to meet him/her but that you have a few more people you need to catch up with.

  6. Follow up: If you have come across somebody you would like to stay in contact with, exchange cards and if you are getting on well ask him on the spot if he has time for a drink/lunch/coffee later (e.g. if you are at a conference). Otherwise send a mail or call with some reference to your conversation, e.g. a link to a site he might find interesting, a suggested contact. Send something helpful and then try to take it from there.

  7. Start your own event: I live in Amsterdam but I don’t speak Dutch well enough to use it for work. I work for an American company, so all my business contacts were outside the Netherlands and the existing events were in Dutch. Solution? I had the idea to start my own event in English with a mixed Dutch and expat audience. This has proved to be invaluable in making contacts locally. When you are an organiser, you have an excuse (if not an obligation) to  speak to everyone at the event. Making an offer of a speaker slot is an excellent opportunity to meet people in whom you are interested.To start your own event, just rope in a few friends as organisers and find a venue which will allow you to have the event for free in exchange for bringing in trade on a slow night.

 

By Ciara Byrne
Republished from “
CEO seeks startup”