Your business or career can’t survive in a bubble which is why you network. But what makes for a memorable interaction? And how can you build a list of valuable connections? We asked six of Manchester’s most prolific networkers for their tips and tricks.
Find Your Tribe
As any good sales person knows, people buy from people they like, which is why finding the right people is half the networking battle. Josh Bolland, CEO and founder of web technology agency, J B Cole says:
“It’s important to get to know people and find common ground so you can build lasting relationships. These new connections may or may not turn into direct business, but you’ll likely create referrals or even form new friendships which could become integral to your organisation and your personal life.”
Finding people you hit it off with also makes it more likely you’ll keep the relationship going. Arranging to meet for a coffee or collaborating on a blog post is just as important as making first contact. And, the stronger the relationship, the more likely it is to snowball into something more.
Anyone can meet people. But making memorable connections is the real goal and being human is the best way to achieve it. Heather Gray, founder of Heather Gray Events, asks:
“How many times have you met someone at a networking event where they’ve spent the entire conversation talking about themselves? I don’t know whether it’s a fear of being one of those people, or whether I’m genuinely curious about others, but I always tried to find out more about who I’m talking to than pitching myself when networking.”
By placing the focus on the person you’re speaking with and being genuinely interested in what they have to say, you’ll create a human connection that resonates after the event.
And it doesn’t have to be all work. Discussing personal challenges can often strike a chord with someone who’s had the same experience as our very own CEO, Richard Gahagan, notes:
“Nobody wants to hear your elongated elevator pitch, but sharing the knowledge of your key challenges in work or life will provide good conversation and crossover opportunities.”
Revealing that you’re not infallible is a great way to bring less experienced people into the conversation and it also makes you more likeable.
Avoid Uncomfortable … Silences
Entering a room and knowing no one there is something that can be counteracted with a little bit of homework. Michael Di Paola, co-founder of award-winning brand agency Studio North and founder of networking event Freshwalks, recommends making the most of any guest list you receive before the event:
“Shortlist anyone of interest you don’t already know. A bit of LinkedIn research might throw up some interesting conversation starters. Even if it’s as simple as, “Oh, I see you also know such and such”, finding something in common is a quick way of relaxing the vibe and gaining trust.”
Bolland agrees and recommends doing “as much research on key people as possible, making it your mission to speak to them during the event.”
With a whirlwind of people around you it’s easy to become distracted. But listening closely to the person you’re talking to is a great way to encourage them to continue and to nourish your budding relationship.
Chris Marsh is Director of brand building agency, Agents Of. He recalls a useful piece of advice he has stuck to over the years:
“Be interested, not interesting. In other words, listen to others and see how you can help them.”
Gray agrees that this approach pays off and that re-positioning a conversation from “how can you help me?” to “how can I help you?” makes best use of your time. However, if you ask this question, be prepared that you might not be the right person to help. Which is where your network comes into play.
By finding out what your new contact wants to do more of, or what they’re struggling with, you can consider who else you can help. As Gray points out:
“I’ve always found being generous with introductions reaps rewards. Your network recognises you listen to them and care about championing their success and your new contact pegs you as someone helpful, well-connected and likely to look after you in return.”
But what happens if you’re out of your comfort zone?
If networking gives you the heebie jeebies, it’s unlikely to be the thought of meeting new people that makes your skin crawl. What you probably dread is having to promote yourself in a way that feels unnatural or fake. Gahagan says that they key to this is to be human and “as transparent and genuine as possible.”
Scott Hadden, founder of Manchester networking group #FoodnFilm, also recommends being yourself and reminds us all to “remember that you’re great at what you do so you don’t need to try and pretend to be anyone else.”He also notes that “people don’t just want to know experts; they want to know experts they like and can trust”, making authenticity an important component of your networking strategy.
As a network founder, Scott is well-placed to provide his top tips for easing even the most nervous into their next networking event.
While building bridges with a room full of strangers can feel nerve-wracking, Marsh believes that letting business overtake pleasure is a big no-no. That’s because the most important thing about networking is to “enjoy it so others can see you’re positive about what you’re doing.”
By letting your natural enthusiasm shine, people will want to spend more time with you giving you more opportunity to create strong relationships.
Making Connections Count
But the fun doesn’t stop there. After every networking session, embed your new connections by taking your stash of business cards and do the following:
Now, go forth and network like a pro.