What do you do at a networking event? How do you prepare for conversations? Anna B. Sexton looks at four common networking styles and shows you how to be effective in networking situations.
Director of Open to Create and networking coach, Anna B. Sexton, says there is no right or wrong way to network – rather, there are more effective or less effective ways.
“If there’s one phrase to rely on at a networking event, it’s 'tell me more'.”
“Do away with ideas that you’ll be brilliant at effective networking overnight – you won’t – but you can become confident as you reflect on your performance and prepare for networking events.”
Anna has met many people who find it a stressful and scary experience.
She attributes this to deep-rooted fears of rejection, fears of inadequacy, or feelings that their time is too limited or being wasted.
“We grow up sheltered at school – told 'don’t do this' and 'don’t do that' – while the scary playground had no rules. Entering a room of strangers can trigger these playground anxieties.”
In Anna's opinion, these are the people who go on to form aggressive and less effective networking techniques to cope.
Four styles of networkers
Anna worked with a fellow networking specialist, Alison Seddon, to identify four styles of networking:
- The Wallflower: “Standing on the edges of the conversation, you are nervous and quiet. If someone speaks to you, you answer politely but don’t discuss yourself. You’re sensitive to the thoughts of others, but lack confidence or energy to take action or have more than general chit-chat.”
- The Butterfly Collector: “You engage in quick fire conversations, giving a lot of energy and making confident first impressions. You get round the room quickly and collect lots of contacts. But, after the event, you’re exhausted and bored, so you struggle to maintain contact.”
- The Hygienist: “You believe networking is a waste of time and you would rather not be at the event. So you eat the food and moan about the experience instead. You don’t shake hands with other people – as if their hand was too dirty to be touched – because you don’t see the value in knowing about them and their projects.”
- The Salonniere: “The Salonniere – named after 18th Century women who hosted dinner parties – is a modern-day party co-ordinator. They play host between difficult people, trying to find the common ground. You easily forget your own goals, redirect attention away from yourself and use up all your energy."
A person can be more than one style, depending on their mood, reactions or their well-being. But once you know which one you are, you can work on improving your effectiveness:
“A Wallflower should practice role-playing, and encourage themselves to speak at a higher level than the level that they think is normal.
“A Butterfly Collector should try encourage the use of a system after an event, where they ‘download’ all of their information and do follow up actions like emailing or phoning contacts straight away.
“A Hygienist should go to an event with tasks of engaging in conversation and encouraging collaboration, to focus their mind away from their own projects.
“A Salonniere needs to remember what their goals are for being there. They need to find a way to measure the success of an event, through the value they get out of it for themselves.”
Preparing for a networking event
It is possible and advisable to prepare for networking events. Role-playing conversations, ordering business cards, and dressing comfortably and smartly are ways to show your dedication to your work.
“Also, find out who else is going to be there, as you may want to read up on people beforehand. Contact the organiser or check out the event page for a guest list.
“It’s about making the most of the opportunity. It may be a free event, but it will still cost you time and money, so you should decide if the people going are relevant to your goals.”
At a networking event
Everyone has a purpose for networking and your task is to find out what that is and how you their goals align with your own. That means you need to have conversations!
“If there’s one phrase to rely on at a networking event, it’s 'tell me more'. This invites the person to tell you what they think is important about their work.
“General questions like 'what are you doing later in the week?' can also help break the ice.
“You should listen and engage using the skill of Active Listening. If you can repeat their words in your response – for example, 'So, Tina, you work in arts management. Tell me more about...' – you’ll remember more details, while proving that you’ve been listening.”
Body gesture and voice are even more important than what you say. Studies have shown that the act of communication is made up of:
- Spoken words (7 per cent) – what you say
- Voice (38 per cent) – how you say it
- Body language (55 per cent) – how it comes across in your face and body.
“For this reason, ‘mirroring’ another person’s body language can help build the relationship. Watch how they stand, gesture and smile.
“You can tell how someone is responding to you by their voice – the speed, feelings behind the voice, the tone, whether it is constant or full of broken pauses.
“If you’re nervous, just remember that everyone is just as nervous as you. But you’re there to network, so be open to having a conversation.”
After a networking event
To be effective at networking, what you do after an event is just as important as the event itself.
“If conversations didn’t go to plan, you should reflect on what you did and could have done better. Putting yourself in an onlooker’s shoes, replay the scene and ask yourself how you could have done it differently.”
“Do away with ideas that you’ll be brilliant at effective networking overnight – you won’t."
Another positive step is to contact every person you connected with, by email or a phone call. Your activity could be organised and filed in a database system or a spread sheet.
“If you don’t have time, have an email template ready. Say 'it was nice to meet you yesterday. I’d really like to follow up on the things you said about…' and adjust it for each person.
“Finish the email with an actionable task like a phone call or a follow-up email in a week. Then use your diary or a reminder system to book that action in.
"As a final point, keep faith and keep going to events. Networking provides you with opportunities to get positive relationships."
What are your networking tips for events? How useful do you find Anna's information?