Networking for novices: 5 tips to improve

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The word “networking” tends to elicit a collective groan from the introverts, job seekers and the amateurs alike.

From open days and exhibitions, to local business forums and bondholder socials, the list of networking events in the corporate world are endless. Turns out, there’s a few things to bear in mind when putting on your power suit, grabbing a stack of business cards, and heading into a room full of big fish.


Stop saying Networking

Get rid of the word ‘networking’ and replace it with ‘connecting’. We hear people talking about putting their ‘networking’ game face on, challenging themselves on how many business cards or leads they can pick up.

The best networking comes from forming genuine relationships. Be attentive and be present. Show up and demonstrate that you genuinely care about the conversation and find ways to relate to people, rather than treating it as a business exchange.


Have an icebreaker

Granted, it’s hard to drum up conversation with a stranger (unless it’s at 2am in a nightclub toilet). Walking up to someone you don’t know is a whole lot easier when you have a few go-to conversation starters. My personal favourites:

  • Anything related to food or drink (“I can’t stop eating these canapés. Have you tried them?”)
  • Talk about the venue (“Such a great venue. I’ve never been here before, have you?”)
  • Non-controversial news topics (“Have you seen x and y in the news this week”)
  • A joke (“I’ll be honest, I’m a total newbie to networking. This is my first event, so do you mind if I stand with you for a bit?”)
  • If all else fails, take the British approach, and talk about the weather!


Do some stalking

Social media is a god send ahead of a schmoozing session. Snoop on the attendees by looking at the guest list or check Twitter to see who is tweeting in advanced of the event.

Having some familiar names and faces in your head beforehand to avoid standing like a lemon and wishing the ground would swallow you whole.

But a networking event is just the jumping-off point for starting new relationships – follow-up is the key to developing it. The golden rule is to send connection requests via LinkedIn as soon as possible (even at the event if you can!) LinkedIn is there to help build your professional profile and grow your network. Continuing that conversation post-event is a must.


Master the art of conversation

Name, company, job title, where they grew up – the usual approach when talking to someone new. But when the small talk is up, it’s easy for things to go south.

When on the verge of an awkward silence, avoid by making them the topic of conversation. 9 times out of 10, most people (deep down) love to talk about themselves, so asking a person to elaborate or tell you more about themselves is a good way to find talking points you’ll be able to expand on.


Bring a wingman/woman

Going to your first networking event is always a daunting task but going to your first one alone truly is a baptism of fire. Bringing a colleague or friend is a good way to ease yourself into the world of corporate socials. Whilst you don’t want to be their shadow, it can be easier meet and connect with people when you have a friend to lean on.


Networking, sorry connecting, is an important part of anyone’s job, particularly in PR. You build awareness of yourself and the business you are part of as well as enjoy the odd bacon buttie, canape or glass of wine if you are lucky.

My office BFF, Richard Pettinger is the James Bond of the networking world (minus the looks, stature, and female adulation). If you’re wanting to learn from the best, check out his blog on a networking event he attended at Derby’s Museum of making.

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