Social networking is all the rage nowadays and it’s easy to see why. With online networking you can connect with people all over the world, not just people who happen to go to the same networking events as you or who know people you know.
That isn’t to say that face-to-face networking still doesn’t have its merits, especially for someone who’s finding a new job, changing careers or simply hoping to grow their professional network. When you meet someone in person rather than in cyberspace, they get to see you as a complete package, as opposed to only getting to know the personality you present yourself as online.
For those of us who’ve been sitting at our computer screens, tweeting and poking away for too long, here are some tips for successful face-to-face networking once we’ve torn ourselves away from Twitter and Facebook.
The ‘Early Bird’ Factor
All good networkers arrive at an event early so that they can get themselves in order. Sort out your business cards, make them readily available, take some time to get used to the surroundings, relax, go to the restrooms if you need to and then focus on learning about the other people in the room with you. The earlier you arrive, the more comfortable you’ll feel. If you arrive late you’re likely to walk in flustered and too nervous and unprepared to connect with the movers and shakers in the room.
Break the Ice
How exactly do you go up to a complete stranger at an event and start a conversation with them? Don’t feel like you have to say something profound. Breaking the ice can be as simple as commenting on the venue, the talk, the speaker or the food. Alternatively try asking a person where they’ve travelled in from or if they’ve been to the event or venue before. Enquiring what made them come along to the event can also initiate good conversation and put you both on the same page in your thinking as well.
An Uplifting Elevator Pitch
Have an elevator pitch ready. This isn’t about selling yourself by talking at someone and being pushy. This is more about being able to articulate and succinctly describe who you are, what you do and what you’re at the event for. Use an elevator pitch as a platform from which to launch an actual two-way conversation. You will want to make the pitch as concise and easy to follow as possible. Be specific. This is the key here. If you’re seeking a role, be sure to name the particular type of work, role and type of organisation you’re looking for. The more specific you can be, the more helpful someone can be to you.
The Name Game
Of course, it doesn’t matter how well you connect with someone you meet if you forget to exchange business cards and can’t remember one another’s names afterwards. With social networking, everyone’s name is emblazoned all across their profiles and their updates and all you have to do to be reminded of a name is to log onto your computer. With face-to-face networking, if you don’t get a written record of the name and you have a bad memory, you’re in trouble once the event has ended and you’re back home trying to remember who you wanted to stay in touch with. This is why it’s so important to increase your chances of remembering a name by listening carefully when someone introduces themselves and using their name throughout the conversation.
However you’ve felt about face-to-face networking in the past, be positive once you’re at an event. As networkers, we must remember that we go to events to learn, to meet people, to have fun and to discover whatever we can. If that doesn’t motivate you and you still want to hide behind your computer, remember that building upon our experience of event networking will ultimately help us to improve our online networking skills too.
By Nisa Chitakasem, Founder of Position Ignition, the UK’s leading Career Consulting Company, and co-author of their eBook 135 Networking Career Tips. Nisa co-founded Position Ignition.com to provide career consulting to people looking for guidance and support through their career change, new career direction, job search and career development.