Having to network does create some problems. One is related to having the confidence to speak in English or another foreign language with a stranger.
Let us all be honest.
When we first started to attend events, go to conferences or meetings, we were not always 100% comfortable. It could be that there is something in our DNA which warns us of approaching a group of complete strangers and leaping in with complete ease.
Some people make it seem really natural. Others, including me have at times experienced those moments where I found it more comfort holding my drink and listening to others on the fringe rather than leaping into speak. There have been other times where I wish I had contributed but had been too polite or found that the group had changed the conversation before I could make a contribution.
When I first started attending networking events, I encountered the classic “clique” groups where everyone knew each other, or the dinner where the person who I was having a conversation with, realised I would not be a beneficial source of business so he “dumped” me in favour of a possible prospect to his left.
Fortunately, I’ve improved my networking skills over the years, helped with a good dose of sales training. I take an event at face value and have found that the most important part of successful networking is to relax, be yourself and to simply have a good icebreaker to start a conversation and a smooth closing statement for when you’re ready to move on.
Here are a few tips based on that experience to help you in your networking or conversational efforts.
To Start a Conversation
A simple introduction can transition into a solid conversation, do not be afraid to share a bit about yourself right from the start.
Try: Hi, I’m Frank and I work in the Compliance department at Bank Breaking Bad. My role has been really challenging lately because of all the new regulations and the huge Blockchain fraud which has everyone in a panic. I hope you did not hear too much about it!
To Make a Friend
A big event can be a lot more fun (and it helps you to be less visible) if you can ask a friend to come along and support you. Asking someone to explore different topics of conversations and event areas then makes it quite a lot of fun.
Try: Hi, have you been to sponsors quiz table yet? I’m on my way there now and need some help with the answers.
To Get Advice
If you’re interested in attending a new group or networking to discover a new work opportunity, networking is a great way to learn whilst you socialise.
Many people “target” others from a particular company to research and a few to ask some very direct questions to support their job hunt. To avoid coming across as a networker who “flutters from one networking group to the next” think about something along these lines which is quite a soft approach:
Try: Hi, I see that you work at Bank Breaking Bad. I’ve always been interested in their anti-fraud Blockchain work, I recently saw a position open up in IT Security that I’m thinking about applying for, do you have any advice for me? Please tell me what’s it like working there?
To Keep it Stress Free
When in doubt, or you are becoming concerned, ask a question to prompt a conversation. Try my “over to you” tactic, it helps someone you know who may be shy to make a start and become more comfortable. It is quite general and therefore a light way to start.
Try: So I arrived a little late and was amazed at so many people being here, is this normal? Were you here last year when the keynote speaker Dr Joe Kasser talked about his time at NASA?
SHORT AND SWEET – NOW IT IS TIME TO LEAVE !
The icebreakers above start you off and help you feel more comfortable in your unfamiliar situation or surroundings, or help you make a start.
Our experience as organisers points to 5-10 minutes before you should move on from one group at a Zürich Networking Group event toanother. That is of course unless you’re lucky enough to stumble into your “bestie” an old friend or think you are having a great time with the people you are with and want to develop a deeper level of contact and discussion.
Then the following does not necessarily apply.
Here are some closing statements that are polite but still get the point across that it’s time to move on or to leave the event:
Sometimes, even when you’ve met someone interesting, the time comes when you’re ready to explore and possibly make another connection or three.
Try: Steve, it was really a pleasure speaking with you. I’m going to take a look at some of the other exhibits here, in case I don’t run into you later, I hope to see you at another event soon.
To Connect Later On
When someone you’ve met seems like a valuable contact, make sure you exchange information before you part. You can even suggest a future meeting to speak one-on-one. This is a great time to hand off one of those business cards which are burning a hole in your handbag.
Try: Margaret, I have to head out right now, but I really enjoyed learning more about your work. Could I get your contact info to schedule a time for us to finish /follow-up on our conversation?
To Plan a Follow-up Date
If you found out you are both going to the next Zürich Networking Group event or the next HRZ recruitment day, why not plan to attend together? This helps you build a relationship with a good connection and can help you feel more comfortable at that next event.
Try: I had a great time talking with you—are you planning to go to the expo next month? It seems like something that would be relevant to both of us, so maybe we could go together.
To Get Advice and Get Out the Door
A new contact can be a valuable resource, yet you do not need to “be with them” or “them with you” like a bodyguard all night. When it’s time to part ways, be honest that you’d like to follow up at a later date, and then say a polite goodbye.
Try: Hans-Peter, I’m in a tricky stage in my career and wonder if I could pick your brain for advice over lunch some time soon. I need to say hello to a few others here, is there a chance we can plan to connect and meet for a coffee next week?
To Exit – Just Leave
I will admit this has happened to me, so time to be honest, there are times when you end up talking to someone who really isn’t that pleasant or who you cannot seem to find interesting. It is also possible that it could be you, the chemistry to have a good conversation is simply not there. When you’re struggling for more conversation topics or feel you need to take a breather, be kind, but assertive.
Try: Markus, it’s been great getting to know you, but I need to say hello to a few more people here. I hope you have a great evening.
Networking isn’t always easy, especially if you have to enter a room full of people who may be speaking another language and you are still learning it or have no knowledge.
Yet, once you learn how to start and close conversations, you’ll make some connections, find value in attending, it takes time which is why the focus at the Zürich Networking Group is to ensure the contacts made are meaningful for you or your business.
Good luck and please share your thoughts or experiences by commenting on what happened to you.
Author: Andrew Travers
Business Development & Recruitment