1. Prepare your personal story
At a busy networking event, you can save a great deal of time – and make much more impact – if you already know what to say to the most common questions. Prepare, for example, a good concise description of your current job or employer, emphasising the positive. Know why you have attended the particular event that you are at. And for job seekers, make sure you can articulate your ambitions and future plans.
2. Don’t be afraid to start a conversation
At a large gathering it is easy to only talk to people you already know, but you need to make new contacts, as well as keep up with the old. If you find it difficult to talk to strangers, then practise the art of conversation, especially the opening gambit. Start with a person’s name badge. You can ask about their job, their employer, the type of work they do, and so on. From small talk, move on to more serious matters only if conversation allows. Make sure your name badge is visible, and take your own along just in case the one provided includes errors, is difficult to read, or is difficult to wear.
3. Cold call networking
Prepare yourself well if you are making contact ‘out of the blue’. Your first call should be brief and to the point – the last thing you want to do is impose. You need to say who you are, where you are from and, most importantly, why you are calling. Write a short script if it helps. If you want to discuss possible career moves, make it clear you don’t want a job but rather the opportunity for a more general discussion. You could then arrange a more convenient time, or suggest an informal meeting. If you are networking in order to promote your firm, or to offer an exchange of information or ideas, then suggest an informal meeting over drinks or lunch.
4. Listen as well as talk
Although you may have plenty to say, you need to be a good listener as well as a good talker. Networking is all about finding connections that bring mutual benefit – how can you do this without listening? Even the shyest networker will find it easy to listen attentively.
5. Stay in contact
Keep a supply of business cards ready to give to every new contact you make – and make sure they give you theirs. It is perfectly acceptable to follow up good contacts with an informal email. File those other business cards safely away, as you never know when you might need them.