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Networking lunches, networking dinners, networking opportunities: We’ve all had those moments when we have had to talk to total strangers. Some people take to it like ducks to water, but charming new people doesn’t come naturally to everyone. If you fall in the latter category, then this how-to is for you!
The first thing you should do when you’re about to make the rounds is to take a few deep breaths and put on a confident front. Note: “Confident” is not synonymous with “Aggressive.” Don’t pounce on people while brandishing product brochures; try a firm handshake and a “Hello, how are you?” held together with a friendly smile instead (you can practise the smile at home). Feeling self-conscious and uncomfortable is normal, but it could help to remember that while the people you are meeting could be rich and successful, they’re still human and can be persuaded to listen if you carry yourself well.
Strategise, strategise, strategise. Just as how you wouldn’t run headlong into a war, so you shouldn’t run headlong into a networking occasion. Have a game plan, so to speak, where you fix some goals you want to achieve and results you want to see. For example, you could plan to speak to, and follow up with, at least 10 people; or you could aim to set up a meeting with at least one CEO. With those goals in mind, you can work towards them instead of flailing around aimlessly.
The paradox of sales is as such: You need customers to sell to, but selling too hard results in no customers. This also applies to networking. Try not to lunge at people while enthusing about your company, product, or even yourself. People respond to warmth and genuineness, so keep the conversation away from sales pitches, unless they are really interested. Try asking about THEM instead. After all, networking is supposed to be about building a base of contacts. The more you know about others, the better.
In the event that you do get an opening to talk about your job, it’s a good idea to keep handy a short Unique Selling Point (USP) that lasts about a minute or less. Keep it just long enough to cover the important points, but short enough to be interesting. Think of television or radio commercials: They have to be pithy but yet attention-grabbing. Your USP should follow those lines. It’s a good idea if you draft it beforehand and practice on other people to gauge their reactions.
Lastly, walk around. Shyness has a tendency of rooting people to the spot, but networking means needing to be seen and heard, and that means having to move around and approach people. Try to meet as many people as possible and not get monopolised, no matter how interested that person is in you. You could always take that person’s card and contact him or her after the event.
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Not everybody’s natural inclination is to be the life of the party, but a little mind over matter (and this how-to) should do the trick. Be prepared to make a serious dent in your stack of name cards!