I remember my first attempt to business networking. I was working as a social media executive and my boss at the time thought it was a good idea to put me up for a new challenge; so it started with me attending a big event in London, representing the company I was working for. I was so excited but deep down inside, I was absolutely mortified. Me as a brand ambassador? What was I to do at this event? Will people actually talk to me? And how do I even start a conversation with all these successful people I had never met before? Thankfully I faced the fear and did it anyway. When in doubt, smile and live up to your expectations, regardless how much you need to fake it in the beginning. Eventually, it will all become a part of you.
That’s the thing about about networking; it’s really all about connecting with people. In most professional fields, you are told to engage with likeminded individuals who share the same passions and aspirations as you. When attending networking events, you need to connect with people from all walks of life, regardless how much you actually share in common. And this is exactly how you start building contacts.
SPEAK TO EVERYBODY
To excel at business networking, you need to actually be open to speak to everybody. When attending an event, don’t just speak to the “very important people” there. Go and introduce yourself to absolutely anyone and everyone. You never know who they are and how you might help each other in the future until you actually speak to them. To me, everybody is a very important person. Behind all individuals, there is an interesting story worth hearing. It’s always good to make a list of individuals you want to connect with to introduce your ideas to and create possible business collaborations. But don’t rule out other possibilities for yourself. In fact, you might be in for a surprise. I attended a magazine launch once where I knew who I needed to speak to. But as I was there mingling with these people, I noticed there was a man in the corner sitting by himself. So I went to introduce myself. Rule number one is to never forget how you felt when you were a novice and remember to help others too. So I started speaking to this man who was far from being a novice; little did I know he was actually the founder of a very important publishing company. I had no idea who he was and he didn’t have a clue about me. But by speaking to one another in a natural way, we got to know each other and it was one of the most inspiring and stimulating conversations I had ever had. By doing this, I also gained another business connection. Turns out that many people who are right at the top on the success ladder don’t actually like to parade about it and prefer to stay behind the scenes. I like that and respect humble people who don’t need to shout out about their status. To find this out, you need to get out there and engage with everybody.
The most important quality in networking by far is your communication ability. To create a network of contacts, it is not enough to just speak to people. You first need to learn how to communicate effectively. I’m sure you’ve all heard that communication is only 7% verbal, 38% tonal and 55% non-verbal/body language. This means that what we say doesn’t really have as much of an impact as it does about how we say it and most importantly how we are positioned physically when we say it. My biggest lesson in life so far has been to master my body language. You need to create an open, mutual vibe in order for somebody to fully understand what you say and to respond to you. When standing, do it upright with equal weight on both of your legs because this shows you have a strong foundation. When using gestures with your hands, don’t go all over the place, but instead create an open and inviting image for the listener. Never point at anybody, it’s simply rude. But the biggest secret to effective communication in my opinion is actually your smile. This is the most comforting and contagious physical reaction. Everybody likes to be around happy people, so start smiling more and stand tall.
We have established that networking is all about mingling with people and building contacts. I truly believe that to build long lasting professional relationships you need to be completely genuine. Until you gain the confidence you need in the field, you can fake it until you make it. But there comes a point when you realise you are not a robot and that your true personality wants to come to the surface. And this is a great thing, because we are all unique and we all have amazing qualities about ourselves that attract others to us. Business networking is not so different from being socially active in your everyday life. The only contrast is that its main objective is for business and not pleasure. So go about it as you would when you are socially out and about and making new friends. Be yourself, speak confidently and get to know the other person. Learn to be a good listener and remember that everybody has a great story behind them that deserves to be heard.
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