How to walk into a room and make connections with confidence every time and to master how to network in-person.
Networking is a funny thing. It’s an essential part of your working life but no matter how senior or junior you rank, it can still bring butterflies to your stomach and hit you with nostalgia to the first day of school – even after years of practice. It’s known as “the fear”. So how do you take all that fear and channel it, so you have the confidence to network in-person?
Before you arrive, consider how you want to introduce yourself and test a few options. It should sound organic and not be a recital of your CV in one breath. Try variations and playing around with it:
‘I’m Danni. I work for the NHS Confederation as Senior Events Marketing Officer.’
‘I’m Danni, the Senior Events Marketing Officer at NHS Confederation.’
Avoid abbreviations of companies unless they’re widely known. You don’t want the first question to be ‘where?’.
If you’re nervous, think of some introductory starter questions based on the event you’re attending. That way you have an instant conversational olive branch that will open the floor for a more natural conversation. Learn your questions, don’t write them down on paper…!
From the moment you leave your house, be switched on. You never know who is attending the same event as you, they could be on the bus, walking in the street near you or entering the door behind you – like a job interview, first impressions count. Make sure you’re dressed for the occasion as you’re representing your business, and you’re an ambassador for yourself. Having a friendly smile on your face and being welcoming is key. You don’t want to be shying away in the corner looking timid, or with a look of disinterest slapped across your face so you’re instantly unapproachable. Be mindful about what your face is doing. If you’re unsure, practice in the mirror. You may have heard about the 7% rule – research has shown that in a conversation tone of voice accounts for 38%, words only 7% and body language for 55% – if you can talk the talk, make sure your homework is body language.
You’ve made it into the room with poise, elegance and assertiveness! Hurrah! Now, where to stand in the swarm? If you can, try and position yourself towards the centre of the room rather than on the sidelines as it will be easier to mingle and you’ll easily flow from conversation to conversation. If you’re nervous and unsure who to connect with then think about heading for the drinks station or thought board if there is one. Firstly, it will give you an objective as soon as you walk into the room so you will avoid the ‘doorway hover’ and chances are someone else who’s also apprehensive will be over there waiting to start a conversation.
Be welcoming and approachable and very soon you’ll find yourself with a buddy. Get introductions out of the way so the conversation can flow. Now you need to actively listen. Focus on the person in front of you, don’t be distracted by other conversations or people coming and going. When you ask a question, listen to the response. Be engaged and concentrate, that way you can reply with relevant comments.
Even though it’s quality over quantity when it comes to networking, don’t be afraid to move on. Monopolizing one person can be dangerous, you don’t want to use them like a comfort blanket and end up giving CPR to what was a decent conversation. When the chat draws to a close, tell them it’s been lovely speaking with them and move away. Don’t forget your business cards and to hand them out! In a space of 30 minutes, you should aim to network with at least 3 people. It doesn’t sound too many but it’s a realistic goal, that’s approx. eight minutes for conversation, which doesn’t sound like a lot but when you’re nervous can feel like a lifetime, with six minutes to circulate.
The buzz of an event is wonderful. It’s what we’ve all been missing. However, copious layers of voices create a wall of sound that can be a real barrier for some. You may not struggle hearing but be considerate of the person you’re speaking to. Are you speaking clearly and loud enough to be heard over the crowd? Are you muttering or speaking quietly? Don’t shout at them but consider speaking clearer and potentially raising the level of your voice a couple of notches if it looks like they can’t hear you.
If you struggle to hear in a crowd, try positioning yourself so you can hear, which might be on the side of the room, and try to angle your body so you become a block for the noise behind you. Be brave and be honest, if you tell people you’re having difficulty hearing them, they’ll be able to consciously adapt so you can be involved in the conversation.
If you’ve networked correctly, you should feel slightly tired but with a real buzz! Remember, they’re only people and unlike speed dating, you already know they have something in common with you! Here are some handy takeaways to remember when you prepare to enter the world of networking…
- Be confident and friendly with open body language
- Practice your handshake and walking into a room
- Actively listen
- Position yourself carefully in the room and be mindful of others when speaking
- Consider your introduction
- Do your homework
- Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there
- If it’s not going well or you run out of things to say, leave and move on
- And finally, breathe
Did you know we can host networking events here at Horizon Leeds, with a bright open networking space in Meet@, it makes for a great exclusive use. Meet@ is the heart of Horizon Leeds. Bursting with natural light, vibrant colours, great tech, and, of course, delicious refreshments. Find out more, here.