Fiona Duncan-Steer, founder of RSViP Business Networking Agency, discusses how to make the most of your networking experience.
What makes a professional and productive networking event stand out against a mediocre alternative?
So many get this wrong, with their overly structured and mundane formats and this is what led me to launch the events I have successfully ran for over ten years now. By introducing a strong social element into an event, you are immediately providing an experience, which is not only useful and productive but enjoyable – isn’t it better to look forward to attending a networking event, as opposed to dreading it? There is no secret formula for a successful networking event as it consists of a whole host of aspects cleverly pulled together to create the final piece. However if you do anything, at least make your guests smile.
How to make a networking event a ‘productive’ experience
Plan, prepare and relax. ‘Plan’ because then at least you help eliminate any nerves you may have when you walk into that busy room – at least you have a target of who you’d like to meet; for example if you have requested the attendees list, had a scan down and created your wish list of who you are going to make a bee-line to talk to. This will ensure that you have a focus, which in turn will result in it being productive once those conversations have taken place.
‘Prepare’ – Similar to the above in that practically you can ear-mark a few names from the guest list that you plan to chat to, however preparation also falls on you personally to ensure that you are creating the right first impression in that room, after all first impressions count – so what can you do? Choose your outfit carefully, is it professional attire? Does it reflect your personality and your brand? Ensure you are presentable. It may sound like common sense, but you’d be surprised how many people I meet who look unkempt and unprepared – un-ironed clothes, dirty shoes. Remember you are a window into your brand so be aspirational.
Mental preparation is also key when attending networking events – make sure you are open to it, in a good mood, and feeling on top form. If you don’t feel your best self then perhaps give it a wide berth on that occasion, it could do you more harm than good in the end and give an inaccurate impression of your true self just because you are having an ‘off day’.
‘Relax’ – don’t take it too seriously – it’s only a networking event after all. Be yourself, people buy people and they will see right through you if you are being ingenuine. If you don’t relax whilst there, it will show – nerves are common, so do whatever you need to do to prepare yourself and get into the zone to ensure you are the best version of yourself. People are often drawn towards confidence so if you exude this, it will reflect again your brand in a positive light and people will naturally want to know more.
The ‘secret-weapon’ of the person in the room that everyone else wants to talk to
The main ‘secret weapon’ that attracts people is personality and confidence. Nobody likes a smart ass, so be careful not to cross over into the realms of arrogance, but be confident in yourself and your business.
You can show this in how you carry yourself, your body language, your conversational and social skills and your handshake for example – make it strong, make eye contact with people, smile, ask questions, avoid talking about yourself too much and wait for people to ask you. Make sure you know how to explain what you do concisely, don’t waffle and be a storyteller – nobody cares what you do, they care why you do it.
Finally find that balance between likeability and professionalism – with that said be yourself but don’t be too relaxed that you forget yourself and come across as unprofessional – do this and you will be sure to be remembered. A bonus tip is to be the connector – make introductions and spend your time on others – e.g. quit talking about yourself and spend your time asking others how you can help them, who they are looking to meet today and try and help them make that happen.
Advice for those worried about coming across as ‘salesy’
Don’t sell full stop. You are not there to do this, you are there to make new connections, strengthen existing ones and build relationships.
Just by having conversations with someone you are already selling yourself, your personality, your ‘why’. If they like you they will buy from you, refer you and support you, so don’t attend with the intention of selling your services, as this approach is wrong wrong wrong. You can however be sure to tell people about your services in the conversations you are having, share success stories, case studies, perhaps you have done something you are really proud of recently – this will intrigue and lead to questions naturally without you having to ‘sell’.
Fiona Duncan-Steer, Founder, RSViP Business Networking Agency, Writer, Business Coach