There's rarely a situation more unnatural than walking into a room and trying to strike up a meaningful conversation with people you don’t know.
The secret to networking is realising that talking to strangers doesn’t come naturally to most of us, and the process can feel a little awkward. Rest assured, nobody feels entirely comfortable at networking events. The people who look like they do just have more experience of putting on a brave face.
I too have had to learn to navigate and make the most of these sorts of events. Since joining MOO, the digital print and design company, I’ve lived and breathed the world of networking.
I’ve heard tales of some awkward moments from our business cards customers and I’ve experienced my own fair share. Below are some of the most helpful tips and tricks that I picked up along the way.
Set goals and do your prep
We often forget that we can only get as much out of networking as we put in. If you work it like a wallflower, you are unlikely to come out with a pocket full of business cards. On the other hand, if you’re overly aggressive, you risk making the wrong impression or having short, forgettable interactions.
To avoid these risks, I set goals for what I want to accomplish during the event. Whether you aim to pitch your company to three prospective clients, or connect with five possible mentors, having a goal in mind will help you be more focused and engaging.
The first few words are always the hardest. Putting together a list of conversation starters ahead of the event can really help break that barrier. I find that open-ended questions about the person’s interests are most likely to lead to an engaging discussion.
Some of my go-to openers are “what’s your story?” and “what are you most excited about this week?”. Just try your best not to resort to talking about the weather.
Embrace the awkwardness and stand out
Sometimes, when the conversation really isn’t flowing, the best strategy is just to embrace the awkwardness and use it to your advantage. If you find yourself stuck, drop your guard and just be honest. Saying “I’m not great at small talk. Isn’t networking kind of awkward?” is wholly acceptable.
Chances are, they are thinking the same thing.
Networking events can go by in a blur, so you want to make sure to stand out and be memorable. Beautifully designed business cards can help you make that great first impression and can also serve as fun conversation starters. (We have some new cotton business cards, made entirely of recycled t-shirt offcuts, designed to do just that.)
Quality over quantity
Your business card is also a key to keeping in touch. In my experience, you need to cement the connections you made within a couple of days after the event. A personal email or a quick call are enough to show your interest and make sure you’re remembered.
Finally, to all the event-phobes out there, don’t be discouraged. Some of the best networkers I know are actually quite reserved individuals, who exercise the art of making connections and learnt that, when it comes to networking, it’s quality over quantity.