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How to get networking right every time

Fri, 13 November 2015

Dwain Reid contributes to this first blog in a special Shell LiveWIRE Global Entrepreneurship Week series celebrating innovation and using it to take your business idea and 'Make it Happen!'
Imagine you’re about to enter the room of a business networking event, inside there are a few hundred professionals and industry contacts from your field of interest, you've come alone and the likelihood is you won’t know anyone. As you get closer to the entrance, you can hear the buzz of activity and conversation. Put yourself in that position now, what are your feelings as you are approaching the room? Have you been in that position before? How did you feel? 
The likelihood is that you feel nervous, a little worried, anxious perhaps.  What are you worried about though?  Is it meeting new people?  Scared of not knowing what to say to break the ice?  It’s believed that about 98% of people in networking situations feel exactly the same – so do you know what that means? You’re normal. That alone is a great start. 
In this post I will give some tips to help you get over the nerves and make the most out of networking situations.   
Before we go into how to make the most of networking opportunities, let’s first be clear on what networking is not about. Networking should not be about:
  1. Selling. You can always spot those trying to sell you a product or service, usually the person that approaches you with business card already in hand with a full description of why you should buy their product now. No deal.
  2. Rapidly exchanging business cards. The only person benefiting from this is your business card supplier or printer as you’ll be ordering new cards as if they’re going out of fashion. Save the trees.
  3. Working the room. You are not there to work the room and talk to as many people as possible. Networking is not a numbers game. Working the room doesn't work.
So if networking events are not about frantically working the room dishing out your business card to anyone willing to accept whilst reciting your well planned product pitch then what an earth is networking about?
Simple – it’s about starting mutually beneficial relationships. Very rarely will the magic happen at the networking event itself. Your job is to leave having made a positive impression on anyone you would like to follow up with after the event.
So here are some of my tips on dealing with networking events:
The preparation starts before the event
Make sure you use some type of journey planner to get precise details of location and time it will take to get you there. I use a combination of TFL and Walk It. If you are someone that is particularly nervous, make sure you turn up at least 25 minutes early.  Arriving early should mean that you are one of the first people there and people will gravitate towards you as they arrive. If you do arrive early be sure to make a connection with the event host and find out those obvious questions that people may want to ask as they arrive. Find out a about the host organisation/person, if there’s a guest speaker find out when they are likely to speak and the most precious information – find out where the toilets are. All bits of information that will help you appear to be an ‘expert’ for the night.

What can I talk about with people?
One of the main concerns people have is how do they make that initial conversation with someone in the room, or how do they keep a conversation going. A tip here is to remember that you have at least three things in common with everyone in the room. So if you’re lost for a topic of conversation you can break the ice by talking about:
  1. Your travel/journey
  2. Relationship to the event or host
  3. The weather
I attend many networking events and I set myself a goal of telling as many people as possible one interesting fact about me. Some people I’ve met at networking events will remember that although I’m afraid of heights I’ve climbed the highest mountain in Wales, totally irrelevant to ‘doing business’ but it leads to many interesting conversations and leaves them with something to remember me by.
Things to do to give a good first impression
The best thing to do in uncomfortable situations is be yourself, most of the time when we don’t feel at ease it’s because we feel out of our depth, at a job interview, first day at school/job, oh and, of course, in networking situations. You’re awesome, more awesome than you probably give yourself credit for, so go out and be awesome.  A few tips to magnify your awesomeness in networking situations:
  1. Smile – make sure you’re always smiling. Genuinely smiling will make you appear more approachable.
  2. Introduce yourself clearly. A trick that I use is to introduce myself in the style first name pause, then slower first name, surname. Bit James Bond like, but it gives the listener a chance to hear my first name twice and reminds me to slow down after the pause. So Dwain… Dwain, Reid. Try it yourself.
  3. Be interested.  Spend time finding out what people do, why they do what they do and if there are any problems they are currently having. Do not assume you can solve a problem they haven’t told you they have. Remember it’s not about selling.
  4. What do you do? This question is inevitable, have a good answer for it. Please, please, please do not say ‘I’m an entrepreneur’. Describe whatever it is that makes you money, i.e ‘I build websites’, ‘I’m a gardener’, ‘I develop apps’. A good way to start your answer is ‘I help…’
  5. If you can’t help someone then perhaps someone in your network can. Don’t be selfish – connecting two people can prove invaluable and both parties will remember you for the introduction.
Most importantly, as the cliché goes, the more you do something, the better you will get at it, so grab your business cards and networking pen and get along to networking events that are of interest to you.

About Dwain Reid

Dwain Reid is a start-up business coach that works with ambitious people one-to-one and also delivers entertaining and educational events/workshops. A business management graduate, he is also an entrepreneur, running a six-figure childcare service in London. Dwain has coached thousands of people, entrepreneurs, students, small business owners, sales teams and teachers either one-to-one, through key note speaking or workshops and currently runs the "Entrepreneurs" programme at Kingston University – the Number 1 University in the UK for graduate start-ups in for four of the last five years.
You can learn more about Dwain by visiting his website and following him on Twitter @DwainReid 

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