Networking: It’s a bit like Marmite — you either love it or hate it. But the difference is we all know it’s a good thing to do. It helps you to make new contacts, develop new ideas and progress your career.
Here are some top tips for making the most of networking events and conquering your fear, whether you’re an in-house staff member, consultant or freelancer.
1. Turn the fear into fun
Does the word ‘networking’ fill you with dread rather than a rush of excitement? Faced with a room full of people, it might feel easier to hide in the corner with your drink and your mobile phone for company. Instead, think of it as a chance to catch up with old friends and existing contacts. You never know what interesting conversations you might stumble upon or new ideas and learning you can take back to the office. As you start to relax, you’ll find time passes quickly and you’re enjoying the event.
2. Approach new people
OK, it’s great hanging out with your friends and immediate colleagues, but make sure you use the opportunity to make new contacts. That’s what networking is all about after all. Have a look at the delegate list when you arrive (or ahead of time if available) and see if there are any people you share something in common with. Perhaps there are individuals working in the same field as you or someone whose skills may complement what you do. Don’t worry: you’re not being a stalker, as lots of people in the room will have looked through the list too.
3. Have a few mental notes to hand
Be prepared to explain your job or your consultancy work and the impact you make to those you meet. You’ve probably heard of the ‘elevator pitch’: a brief, persuasive summary about you and the work you do. It might sound daunting but remember that you do your job day in, day out, so the information is all there in your head. You just need to stay relaxed.
Have a few snippets of information to hand that you feel confident chatting about. For example, if you’re a communications manager, you could tell them about the new website or media campaign you’re about to launch and how your role fits into the organisation’s wider strategy. Or if you’re a freelancer you can explain the type of work you do and how this is helping your clients.
4. Do what feels right for you
The extroverts among us might be happy to hold centre stage, whereas those who are more introverted may be happier chatting to one or two people. Don’t put yourself in a setting that feels awkward; do what feels right for you.
5. Drop your new contacts a line
Follow up with any new contacts you’ve made the day after the event. It’s a good way to keep the relationship going and show them you’re interested in working with them in the future.
6. The right frame of mind
If you’re having a busy week, you’re up to your eyes in deadlines and you’re feeling tired, it probably isn’t a good time to network. Look out for future events and plan them in around your other commitments and workload.
Try these out
There are lots of great networking events for charity sector professionals: try Charity MeetUp for organised networking, activities and games; and Barcamp Nonprofits for all things charity and technology (individuals get to set the agenda on the day). Also, good networking opportunities aren’t just offline: you can learn from peers on the Third Sector PR & Comms Network Facebook group. And don’t forget there’s lots of opportunities to meet your peers at CharityComms events.
Thoughts from the sector
Think about what you can give rather than what you can take — when you speak with someone, listen to them and ask them what they need help with and then think about how you could give them a hand. It could be introducing them to your contacts, recommending other events or sharing your own personal experiences. It can help to take the pressure off as you don’t have to worry so much about what you are going to say.”
— Dawn Newton, director, Morello Marketing
Like many writers I can be a bit introverted — so I motivate myself with a goal: I’ll speak to three people I don’t know and then I’m off the clock. Asking people lots of questions is good too. It’s amazing how many people chat away without pausing.”
— Matt Chittock, freelance copywriter, journalist and proofreader
If we’re honest, no one’s favourite activity is walking into a room of people they don’t know and striking up conversation. But the more you do it, the easier it becomes — and the more people you’ll know for next time!”
— Anna Pietrowski, senior editor at Marie Curie
If I see someone standing awkwardly on their own, I’ll walk up and introduce myself and ask them if they’d like to join in with the people I’m talking to. I think we can all make it a bit easier for those who might not be brave enough to start a conversation themselves.”
— Kirsty Marrins, freelance, digital communications
Think about what you want to get out of a situation, event or relationship before you are in a face-to-face meeting. That way you’ll be focused and able to concentrate quickly on useful contacts.”
— Debbie Hockham, co-founder and director, I am recruiting
Working the room is overrated. It works for some but personally I’ve had better outcomes by speaking to fewer people longer.”
— Laila Takeh, co-organiser of Barcamp Nonprofits
Image: Tim Butcher, CharityComms ICA Awards