Networking: some people love it; for others it is a difficult but necessary part of the job.
As part of the AATPowerUp series, we asked the experts for 20 tips on successful networking, and how to build enough confidence to be able to start a conversation.
This will also help you to feel comfortable in any new environment such as, a workshop, conference, away day, or even a new job. Set yourself an achievable goal:
1. Set yourself an achievable goal:
“Sometimes we see a room full of strangers, and feel overwhelmed,” says human behaviour specialist Dr Jane Cox. “Personally, I set myself a target of speaking to 10 new people.”
2. See it as a chance to meet new friends
“With the right attitude, networking can introduce you to new friends with new perspectives and ideas, people you can learn from and people you can help as well as those who can help you,” says Sophie Devonshire, CEO at strategic consultancy The Caffeine Partnership, advising leaders at Fortune 500 companies including Nissan, L’Oreal and Unilever.
“Building up relationships with key people whom you respect and enjoy spending time with so that they become ‘your network’ can be a real support for helping you make key decisions or speeding up unlocking doors.”
3. Understand what might be holding you back
“Attending networking events taps into some of our core human fears such as rejection, failure and change,” says Melissa Kidd, founder of Motem Ltd.
“Once you understand those, you can do things to address them which makes the process of attending networking events and building relationships that much easier.”
4. Believe in yourself
“We all have the ability to be great networkers,” she says. “We’ve been building relationships since we were 2 years old so much of it boils down to communicating and making people feel special,” says Kidd.
5. Brush up your listening skills
If you’re shy, don’t underestimate the power of listening: Introverts are often good listeners which is vital for strong networking.
6. Find your own style
“There are many different networks out there and lots of different styles,” says Andrea Sexton – Director of Andrea Sexton PR. “Try a few out and see what suits you.”
7. Plan in advance
“Plan who you want to speak to before you go. Be conversational and don’t sell to people,” says Sexton.
8. Prepare some conversation openers
“The conversation needs to flow and interesting questions need to be asked,” says Liz Sebag-Montefiore, a director of 10Eighty, a career consultancy.
“It’s best if you don’t dwell on speaking about yourself – always ask them about what they do instead,” she says. “It’s important to understand how to join a group: ‘Do you mind if I join you?’ and it is best to ask a group of two or so who aren’t clearly in a confidential discussion ie, standing further apart.”
9. Identify who you want to meet
“Some networking events provides an attendee list – review and prepare you would like to talk to,” says Steph Rickaby of Sunflower Accounts.
10. Ask open-ended questions
What do you do? Have you been doing this for long? That sounds interesting, how does that work……. Are you local? Where are you based? Have you been here before….?
11. Be in it for the long term
“Networking works best when you build long term relationships then you can refer with confidence and with professionalism,” Andrea Sexton says.
12. Follow up straight away
“I block out time in my diary after each networking event in order to have the opportunity to follow up with people properly,” Sexton adds. “Stick with it and take it seriously – it will be worth it.”
13. Show interest in other people and don’t go for the hard sell
“Introduce yourself, although you might be an accountant, what is it that you actually do?” says Steph Rickaby.
“What pain point do you solve for people? Do you implement cloud based bookkeeping software Xero? Help implement systems and processes?”
14. Have an inspirational message
“At Sunflower Accounts, we help businesses save tax as well as supporting, inspiring and educating clients to love and understand their numbers by meeting with our clients on a regular basis,” says Rickaby.
“It sounds a bit more interesting than being just an accountant, let’s face it! You really don’t want the eyes glazing over or being avoided!”
15. Always take up the offer of a drink
“It doesn’t have to be alcoholic,” says Dr Jane Cox, “but having something casual in your hands makes you seem more laid back and approachable.”
16. Be yourself
“It is so easy to slide into a conversation if you seem friendly, approachable and confident,” says Dr Cox.
“Have a game plan of five interesting things you could talk about that would set your business ahead of others in your field. People remember the unusual and unexpected.”
17. Make the first move
It tends to put you at a favourable advantage,” says Dr Cox. “Most people feel at least as uncomfortable as you do and are always grateful if you’re the one that approaches them and breaks the ice with them.”
18. Always have your business cards to hand
Before you set off to your networking event, ensure you have your business cards and put them in a place you can easily reach such as a pocket – this will avoid a flustered search through your bags, says Liz Cartwright, MD of Cartwright Communications.
19. Don’t huddle with your colleagues and clients
If you’re attending a networking event with colleagues it can be tempting to stay in your comfort zone and only chat to them, or your clients, says Cartwright.
Step away, go in pairs or go it alone and regroup at the end of the event.
20. Prepare your elevator pitch
Have five key points about your business within your elevator pitch:
Who you are, what you do, where you’re based, how big the business is, and which of your clients are relevant to the contact you’re talking to.
And finally, never dismiss anyone as unimportant.
“Make it your mission to discover the value in each person you talk to,” says Liz Cartwright. Ask questions and listen with interest. Don’t make the mistake of discounting people due to a job title. “Someone you meet may be in a junior role, but they could have valuable connections or knowledge you’ll never hear if you dismiss them.”
If you’re an AAT member, the perfect place to perfect these 20 tips is AAT’s annual conference, taking place between 13 -14 June 2019.
Marianne Curphey is an award-winning financial writer and columnist, and author of the book How Money Works. She worked as City Editor at The Guardian, deputy editor of Guardian online, and has worked for The Times, Telegraph and BBC.