August 5, 2016 by Grant McNaughton
Networking can seem daunting at first – our palms sweat and we forget what our own names are. The truth is: networking is really just one person saying to another “Hey stranger! Let’s not be strangers!” (except in a non-creepy way of course). It’s easier than you think and it shouldn’t resemble a complicated math equation – rather, it should be a walk in the park. So, let’s go take a stroll right now and we’ll help you nail your first networking encounter.
1. Acing the First Impression
We all know how much a first impression counts. Often, someone’s first impression of you begins before you even open your mouth: your outer appearance, body language, and facial expressions speak volumes. If no explicit dress code is stated, make sure you understand the occasion and atmosphere. Is the venue fancy or casual? Are the attendees students or professionals? These questions will you give you clues on how to dress your part. Food is often a part of networking – if you know you’ll be munching, try to avoid strong flavours like garlic, or be sure to carry some gum or mints so you can quickly pop them in your mouth. Stick your name tag to the right side of your body so it will be visible when you lean in to shake hands. And finally, smile! It’s the smallest thing that could make the biggest difference in making yourself look approachable, like you actually want to be here.
2. The Approach
You’ve adjusted your collar, cleared your throat, and classily spritzed some breath freshener in your mouth – you know you look dashing. But everyone around you seems to be in groups chatting already, what do you do? Resist your instincts and don’t barge in – it may end up awkward, and you probably won’t get as many touch points anyway. Instead, look for those who are idle, or conversations with gaps of silence. Start with a firm handshake and introduce your name. And just like that, you’ve successfully made your first connection.
3. Letting It Flow
Believe it or not, there are more commonalities between you and a stranger than you may think. Things like, what brought them to the same event as you, whether you’re from the same city, how they liked the food, how they found out about this event, same types of clothing, common hairstyle… they are all instant ice breakers. Similarities are an easy starting point that can help you make your conversation take its course. Avoid controversial topics that could offend another or overstep boundaries. After all, it’s the first conversation, not a debate. Read their body language – if they tense up at a certain topic, ease into another interest. In the end it’s a conversation between two people, try to listen and talk equally, and let it all flow.
4. Eye Contact
We’ve heard about having eye contact ever since the beginning of class presentations. Eye contact is a simple gesture that genuinely shows you’re interested and attentively listening. Looking at anything but the other person or fidgeting will show that you’re distracted and disinterested. If you’re speaking with numerous people in a circle, be sure to make eye contact with everyone – it deepens your connection in a non-verbal way, and makes you more approachable and friendly. In a sense, eye contact is a sign of respect and whomever you meet would want to feel as if you actually care about what they’re talking about.
5. Don’t You Forget About Me
You’ve made your first impression, had a little chat, and decide to wrap things up. Offer your business card or ask for theirs to keep in touch. Or, simply ask if you could add them in LinkedIn. After the chat, it’s customary to follow up and thank them for chatting. You could even set up a time to meet and chat more over coffee. At the end of the day, a 5-minute conversation may be forgotten, but a relationship built one-on-one will be remembered.
All those fancy ties and heels, combined with the title of “networking” can be daunting, but it’s really not as serious as you may think. Relax, breathe, and have a little fun! Be your genuine self, and your authenticity will seep through your words and actions. You know who you are, better than any other person in this world, so why sell something that is not you in the first place?
It’s important to go to that first networking session, shake that first hand, and ask for that first business card. We can’t guarantee it will be smooth-sailing, but who’s a charmer on their first try anyway? With more and more practice, we promise you’ll be a champ.