The thought of being stuck in a room full of people you don’t know for the sake of networking can reduce even the most sociable of us to quivering piles of nerves. What if the bigger boys turn on you...?
To help you put those fears aside, we sat down with speed networking expert Oli Barrett and body language author Elizabeth Kuhnke, who gave us their tips on body language and networking.
1. Make a connection
The whole point of being in a networking environment is to connect with people in the hopes of being able to do business with them in the future.
To be able to do this you will need people to believe in what you stand for, says Kuhnke. If two people act in a similar way they feel connected to each other - so she suggests “observing the people you’re with; mirror or match their behaviour … so they feel comfortable with you”.
This allows you to build a rapport very early on as it allows them to trust you - the foundation of any relationship, whether work related or not. This is particularly important in a case where people may be investing money in you: no one will invest in something or someone they don’t trust.
Read more: Four steps to smarter networking
2. Less is more
“Someone’s far more likely to be engaging and engaged in an event environment if they are subtle” says Barrett. In other words, being the loudest and most flamboyant person in the room isn’t always the best way to be noticed - those people are not necessarily regarded as being of value or importance.
Focus on being able to control the way people see you by using body language effectively, in a way that communicates positivity to people.
3. Show interest
Showing real interest in people (rather than feigning it) is key in a networking situation.
Asking questions like “tell me about you and what brought you here?” opens the door for further conversation.
Likewise, showing interest in someone means they will probably do the same for you, resulting in better and more meaningful conversations that go beyond job related topics.
Make sure you ask those questions in a way that prompts the person to expand on their answers. Asking a lot of closed-ended questions means you’ll have your work cut out if you want to keep the conversation going in the right direction.
Read more: Corporate networking needs a rethink
4. Avoid asking “what do you do?”
Everyone asks it, but do you really want to know the answer? Instead of asking “what do you do”, be creative. Questions like “what’s keeping you busy at the moment?”, which Barrett suggests, is subject to a variety of answers, and gives the person an excuse not to talk about their job or their business.
Being at a work-related networking event does not mean you should spend your time there talking about work. It’s an opportunity that could help promote your career, but being able to do this depends on your ability to connect with people on a personal level.