We meet new people and spark up conversations all the time in our everyday lives, so why do so many people find actively networking to be such an awkward experience? There seems to be an unnatural feel to this forced encounter and it can be really challenging.
All the tools needed for successful networking are already at your disposal: voice, tone, attitude, expressions, gestures and body language. But in order to utilise these, you need to have the confidence to start the conversation in the first place. Here are some great techniques to help you get going.
Shake their hand
This might seem obvious but it’s actually easy to forget, especially if the opportunity doesn’t present itself at the start of the conversation. Try to always combine saying your name with a handshake, so even if official introductions don’t happen until the end of a conversation, you can still make an impression. Having the physical anchor is important as it will help you be remembered.
Use the situation to your advantage
Opening a conversation can be tricky, so use the only thing you know you both have in common – the situation you’re in. If you’re at an event ask them what made them attend, who they’ve come with or what talks they’ve seen. If it’s a breakfast event you could even ask them what they’re going for from the buffet. It’s very difficult to come up with a witty and clever opener on the spot, so use your environment.
Prepare your elevator pitch
You should always be ready with your elevator pitch, you never know who you’ll meet. The question of what you do for a living will always come up no matter who you’re talking to. Rather than saying “I’m a designer”, imagine the impact of saying “I design customer experiences for businesses, utilising both analog and digital technologies”. Practise your elevator pitch so it’s second nature and comes across as a natural part of your story and who you are.
Mirror body language
Not literally. Don’t drink when they drink or cough if they cough, but assess the body language and tone of the person you’re speaking to and reflect it. Use the energy and pace of the person you’re talking to as your guide. It is worth remembering that the person you are speaking to may be using the same practice, so try not to come across as too nervous or uncomfortable as it will make them feel the same way.
Ask memorable questions
Asking relevant questions will help you stand out and also shows genuine interest. If someone tells you what they do for a living, try to follow up with a topical question about something in their field. Ensure your questions help them to expand on their statements.
Make sure you close every conversation by exchanging contact details. This can mean swapping business cards, passing on email addresses or even connecting on LinkedIn. Showing an eagerness to talk again in the future shows that you’ve found the conversation interesting and beneficial, and that you’d like to continue it.
Networking can be a fantastic resource for your job hunt or career change. Begin by making connections on and offline. Attend industry conferences and networking events, make sure to talk to as many people as possible and don’t forget to hand out your business card. Make sure your social media profiles are up to date, join groups and add to the discussions. Ensure you are networking at every available opportunity, you never who you might end up talking to!
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