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Reducing the fear in networking Part 1: Preparing to network

Kathryn Simpson of Kathryn Simpson Consulting

So, you’ve decided to build your contacts through networking. It’s a great way to achieve personal and organisational success and get that next great opportunity. After all it’s all about who you know isn’t it?   How do you make networking less terrifying?  Good preparation and follow up is critical for success as well as attending an event.  So here is part 1 of a series of 3 – preparing for a networking event – from my experience in attending hundreds(!) of networking events on both sides of the Atlantic:

  1. Understand the objective of the event. Why are the organisers holding the event? What can you find out before you go?
  2. Understand the format of the event. Will it be “speed dating”? Will there be a speaker? (Get ready to ask a question). Will you be expected to introduce yourself to a larger group of people? What food will be there (don’t be so hungry you have to continually eat – there is less time for elegant interaction!) Is there a dress code? Often business attire but some events can be gala dinners and others casual meetings at a pub.  Dress so you will feel comfortable, that you have the image you want to project.  Each format provides different opportunities (and threats!).
  3. Define your objective. Getting someone to offer you a job there and then might be a tad ambitious! Instead aim for something that will get you on the path to success. For example, meet three new people who would be willing to have a coffee / follow up phone call with you. Remember that good networking is all about building long term relationships – this is only the start.
  4. Think about what you can do for others. One of the most successful networkers I know always thinks first about how she can help others before asking how they can help her. Consider this as you prepare.
  5. Know who else is going to be there. Will there be an attendee list accessible or circulated beforehand? (This is gold dust – review and highlight who you should speak to ahead of time). Which organizations are you interested in meeting? Prioritize the most important for you. Do your research so you know more about them and are not wasting time asking questions that are available on company websites.
  6. Have a short “elevator speech” ready. Describing what value, you bring in 30 seconds can be a challenge but it’s worth striving for. People will only remember you if you have a very simple and short message and besides it can be really boring listening to others life stories. Besides you want to know about others so you can figure out how you can help them rather than taking too much air time.
  7. Have questions. You may not have chance to ask them all but it gives you something to talk about. If you haven’t been to an event before then asking people if they have and what their experience has been is a good opener! Another good question is asking how you can help.

Completing these steps should help you to feel more comfortable and prepared.  In part 2 I’ll share experiences that will help during a networking event and Part 3 will be about following up.

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