Since I have previously declared my dislike for small talk there is no point in me pretending networking is AWESOME here, personally I prefer real conversations that will improve our world but I see the importance of networking so made it a challenge I had overcome through masses of practise. I usually attend at least 2 networking events a week during the year, double this at Christmastime.
These functions are important, they are celebrations, the contacts we make can be invaluable so love it or hate it – networking is important for business and careers.
Top 10 Tips
This week OptimalBI hosted the first meet up event of Female Fuel’d Tech Talks in Wellington and along with the lovely Larissa Paris of Xero fame we spoke to over 40 women about how to network effectively – as a woman, as an introvert, as a technologist and with unfamiliar audiences. Here are our top 10 networking tips – most are for anyone, one is for women specifically:
- Bring a friend
- If it’s a signup thing, ask a friend to join you
- If you are invited as a sole person ask the organiser if you can bring a colleague / friend along, the will often say yes.
- Have an exit plan
- Sometimes we get cornered by someone and want to exit, be prepared with your exit plan – need a refill, need the toilet, just seen a long lost friend
- Checkout where the bar, food and toilets are when you arrive to be prepared.
- Have a 30 Second “Elevator Pitch Prepared”
- Control the nerves by pre-preparing your “who you are and what you do” elevator pitch
- Personal elevator pitches are great to find a job. Company ones to find an investor/customer.
- Walk in with 3 topics in mind
- As much as I hate the weather – 3 topics you can start a conversation with in mind works a treat
- This silly season 3 easy ones are – how did your office cope with the earthquake? what about Trump? and hasn’t 2016 been a funny year?
- Research the event purpose / host
- Another great conversation topic is why you are all there at the same event. Have you been here before? how do you know the host? are you a member of this organisation?
- Equally being able to strike up a conversation with the host is a great trick, they will quickly introduce you to someone else (because they will be busy greeting people).
- Approach a single person or group of 3
- Sometimes a person is alone because they don’t know anyone else so might become your event buddy
- Odd numbered groups such as 3 people mean you can converse with 1 member.
- Ask questions to keep the focus on them
- If you are introverted and really uncomfortable talking about yourself ask more questions, keeping the focus on the other person. Introverts are usually great listeners.
- Asking the other person questions means you won’t need to move on too quickly
- Smile! and be yourself
- Happy people are more approachable so smile
- It’s easier to be authentic than putting on a persona you can’t maintain.
- Take Business Cards
- If you want to connect with a person via LinkedIN or for a followup offer your card to them
- Be sure to say “I will send you a LinkedIN contact request / email” and remember to do it! these contacts can be invaluable.
- For women – be prepared for “mansplaining“
- OK men get off your high horses now! Yes I am being gender specific here but as a woman who attends many network events I often suffer from Mansplaining!
- Mansplaining is hard to rebuff and harder to shutdown so being prepared is the best course of action. Don’t get angry, be calm. I usually lead my response with “In my experience” it only works some of the time. To be fair Mansplaining is my primary reason to use Tip # 2!
None of us are immune from Mansplaining even the leading voice on a topic the fabulous Michelle Dickinson, Nanogirl experiences it!
If you have other tips please add them. Final reminder – if you see someone who needs rescuing at an event share these tips with them too. Otherwise good luck networking this silly season! come say hi if you see me at some. Vic.
Victoria MacLennan is a busy business owner, investor and director. She is passionate about diversity, women in both leadership and technology, organisational governance and focuses much of her time on strengthening the New Zealand economy through Digital and Technology. Victoria is the New Zealand IT Professional of the year for 2016 and nominated for Women of Influence in the Board and Governance category. You can read more about Victoria here.