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10 Tips for a great networking experience

Victoria MacLennan. 17 November 2023, 8:03 am

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Walking into a crowded room can be intimidating for the best of us, worse still if you don't know anyone and don't feel confident inserting yourself into group conversations. Worse again if you are anything like me and hate "what about that weather this week" kind of small talk.

It's taken a while to get back to seeing other people in person on a regular basis post COVID and many of us have forgotten why networking opportunities - courses, meetup groups, talks, conferences, industry events, cross industry events, launches, openings - are important. Depending on our roles, stage in career, personal goals and stacks of other factors the importance of turning up to events and networking takes on a different meaning. In really basic terms the benefits can be as simple as establishing a community or cohort through to career and personal brand development.

Reality is contacts and connections are still very important when building a career and personal brand. It would be fabulous if we were only judged on the quality of our work but as an employer faced with hundreds of CV's to sift through / shortlist from, occasionally those word of mouth recommendations will cut through the piles of paper quite quickly. Equally knowing who is hiring, who to avoid working for and who pays well for instance is often shared quite informally at ... you guessed it, networking events.

Top 10 Tips for A Great Networking Experience

#1 Your Personal Elevator Pitch

Before you walk into any room know how you plan to introduce yourself - "Kia ora, I'm Vic and I love working with great people" or "Kia ora, I'm Vic and I am passionate about raising Digital Literacy in Aoteaora New Zealand"

#2 Bring a Buddy

Buddies are useful for loads of reasons. It's easier to work a room in pairs, you can introduce each other into a group conversation eg: "Charlotte is an Agile Coach she has great work stories". Your buddy can also form part of your exit strategy from a conversation, or read the crowd and give you prompts when it's time to move on.

#3 Know what and why you are attending

The topic or initiative or organisation the event is structured around serves as a great conversation starter or means of finding common ground with strangers. Knowing why you are interested in the topic will help the conversation flow too - there is nothing worse than attending a Blockchain event and declaring you hate Blockchain for instance.

#4 Prepare 3 x Conversation Starters

This one has got me though many an awkward networking event, remembering I hate small talk, when there is a lull or I have inserted myself into a group of strangers. Arrive prepared with 3 topical talking points (that you are able to converse on in polite company of course). Stick to things that aren't too controversial or personal eg: in NZ saying "so what about Trump this week" lands really well vs "who did you plan to vote for in the general election" doesn't. Other great topics that people can find common ground on - Streaming platforms (eg: I am thinking of giving up Netflix, what's your go to streaming platform?); Summer Holidays (eg: What are your plans over the summer?); Election issues that won't bring up personal politics eg: Potholes and Speed Limits or if you live in Wellington, Water infrastructure (eg: So do you think the council will be able to resolve our pipe issues next year?).

#5 Exit Options

Knowing your exit options is occasionally necessary if trapped in a difficult or boring corner. Excusing yourself to the toilet, drinks table, to find food or to thank the host are all polite options. Personally I spot a safe person in the room and monitor their movements just in case I need to exit saying I haven't seen my colleague in weeks - as another polite exit option.
Mansplaining is worthy a mention here too, which I can do as a woman. Women reading this post, if you find yourself networking and the recipient of Mansplaining, Exit Options become invaluable. The other course of action is of course to challenge the man - that's a call you need to make in the moment. Men who are reading this - Mansplaining isn't a feminist attempt to marginalise men (as it was Mansplained to me once), women know stuff, have a conversation with us rather than assume we need concepts explained to us.

#6 Thank the Hosts

It's polite. Be nice to the hosts and they will introduce you to people too. Not to mention as a person who hosts many events (that cost me real money in food, booze, venue, staff etc) I have a mental nice list of who has thanked me and they are far more likely to be invited next time :-)

#7 Actively Listen

Perhaps this should have been Tip #1. Listening doesn't come naturally to everyone, actively listening is an art in itself. It is to only half listen and lose the trust of others you are talking to quite quickly. Stop scanning the room, make eye contact, be present in the moment. Becoming conscious of your ability to actively listen is key to success in our careers, networking events are great places to practice this.

#8 Drink Appropriately

Seems like commonsense, believe me it's not. Like knowing what and why you are attending, choosing to drink appropriately for the event and audience is important too. It might seem like fun blowing off steam or guzzling those free beers - but electing to then tell your CEO everything she is doing wrong is likely a career limiting move.

#9 Don't Burn Bridges

The Digital and Technology industry I work in is like a village, people move around roles, acquire companies and change functions so you never know who you might be your next customer, employer or influencer. You don't have to love everyone just "smile and wave" as the saying goes.

#10 Smile and Have Fun!

Relax. If you are nervous it will come across, you want to make a good impression - smiling goes a long way towards a positive first impression. You never know who you might meet at these things - a new best friend, a new networking buddy, your future boss or colleague. So try and relax, smile and have some fun.

It's never too late to start networking. You never know who you might meet, who you can help or who can help you.

Happy sharing, Vic.

This is a repurposed old blog of mine that first appeared on LinkedIN.


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