Networking is the No. 1 unwritten rule of success in business, we have all heard the saying “it’s not what you know, but who you know” As Herminia Ibarra once said, “Networking is a lot like nutrition and fitness: we know what to do, the hard part is making it a top priority.” Whereas it should be your priority because your NETWORK is actually your NETWORTH.
I have been in sales all my life, therefore, if I was not networking I was actually not working. Nowadays, during events some people introduce me to others as “Marcela the networking expert, she knows everyone in yachting! But the truth is, I was not a natural networker, it was a skill I had to work on because I was terrified to be alone at events! And even if I was not alone, I would stick to that friend or colleague all day in order to avoid the terrifying “small talk.”
The literal definition of networking means the act of exchanging information with people who can help you professionally. It is basically going to an event filled with impressive people you normally don’t have the chance to speak with, and you’d like to pick their brains and maybe even arrange a coffee meeting to discuss ideas, do business or explore opportunities.
Go! Start networking!
When I first started working in sales, this used to be my mission “ Go! Start networking (and a nightmare to be honest)” every time I had to go to a networking event, party or group get-together, I always would end up wondering, “Why did I even come to this thing? And How fast can I leave?
Networking events can be awful. Business conferences or parties full of strangers can be intimidating, and trying to “work a room” is hard!
Here’s the thing I’m here to tell you: Networking doesn’t have to be difficult. I was so tired of going to events that were a waste of time, overwhelming or awkward that I decided to find a way to change it, and I learned some tricks that I will share with you here that will help you make sure you have a successful networking experience!
If you hate going to events or you’re terrified of making an awkward first impression, then continue reading.
First of all, Calm Down
Before you can even start to consider how to approach talking to someone, it’s important to understand why it is you’re getting nervous in the first place?
Start by being self-reflective and asking yourself what’s stopping you from approaching new conversations. The reality is that the reason typically stems from a place of anxiety and the fear of rejection or embarrassment (which everyone in the room is feeling the same way! And knowing this already makes it easier.
Know that we are all “naturals’
Know that humans are social creatures. We thrive by helping each other grow. Nearly everything you accomplish is a result of the people you spend time with. From sharing information about new opportunities to playing an influential role in your personal development, your network – every person you know – is there supporting you along the way. This is why building relationships is such an important skill. Every person you meet is a vault containing a wealth of insight, knowledge and experience. As you get to know people, you get to share that wealth and use it to make your own life richer and more successful.
It’s a game not a task
The worst thing you can do when it comes to networking is to treat the process like a task. The problem with this is that we then tend to approach the idea of a conversation as a “business proposition. Then, as a result, the interaction becomes very forced and impersonal and uncomfortable.
Instead, try approaching it more as a strategy for making new friends. Chances are you won’t start a conversation with someone you want to be friends with by extending a business card first (right?)
Some of the best networking I’ve done and some of the best connections I’ve made in the past were the results of actually not talking about work.
Give yourself a task or a goal to accomplish
A great way to meet people at an event is to make a game out of it or to give yourself a goal. One game I like to play is to see how many business cards I can get. I’ll tell myself that by the end of the day I should have 20 new business cards in my hand.
Meet people through other people
The best and easiest way is to hang out with people you know and ask them to introduce you to people. Being introduced through them or joining their conversation will very likely receive a warm welcome and introduction to the person you wanted to be introduced to. Joining the right circle at the right time in an event can make your presence worthwhile.
I know, beginning a meaningful conversation with a stranger can feel awkward and nerve-racking at first. First of all, Be positive: Go into the conversation with a positive attitude. Maintain appropriate body language to portray your enthusiasm, like smiling and uncrossing your arms. Take a deep breath: Take a series of deep breaths before initiating the conversation. This will help slow your heart rate and help relieve any nervousness. Go to the restroom if you need to play some positive affirmations on youtube or Spotify to give you that confidence boost.
Here are some ideas to open up a conversation.
Talk about the weather
Beautiful day, isn’t it?
Can you believe all of this rain we’ve been having?
Did you order this sunshine?
About the Party or Event
So, how do you know John? (the name of the host)
It looks like you could use another drink.
Are you enjoying yourself?
Pretty nice place, huh?
- Where are you from?
- What brings you here?
- What company do you work for?
- How is your day been?
- Have you been here before?
- You look like you could need a drink.
Talking about current events
- Did you catch the news today?
- What do you think about this transit strike?
At the office
- Looking forward to the weekend?
- I can’t believe how busy/quiet we are today, can you?
- Has it been a long week?
- You look like you could use a cup of coffee.
Another tactic for beginning a conversation with someone new is to compliment them. This strategy usually leads to a pleasant discussion about the item or element you’ve complimented. Consider this example:
- I like your briefcase.
- I love your dress. Can I ask where you got it?
By complimenting someone on something specific, you increase your chances of being remembered and well-liked. Keep it professional and polite, like commenting on someone’s eyes, their jewellery or their shoes.
Careful: If you are a man, try not to be too vulgar or offensive when talking to a woman that sounds like you are harassing her or making her feel uncomfortable. For women, if a man says something you don’t like, YOU DON’T NEED TO SMILE, we are used to being polite and saying “thank you “while inside we feel terribly uncomfortable. The only way to stop men from being unpolite is to stop being compliant. Smiling to avoid making them feel bad while we feel bad, is just perpetuating the misogyny.
Remember that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel (good or bad)
Ask open-ended questions
Another excellent approach for starting a conversation with a stranger is to ask open-ended questions. This strategy works best when you’re attending a shared event and can ask about the other person’s experience. For example:
Example: “Is my first time in this event, What about you?”
Stay up-to-date on current events
Current events are excellent conversation starters. It’s advisable to reference non-political events in case you and the stranger share differing views.
Example: “Did you see the(whatever event) starts next week?
Sometimes the best way to begin a conversation is to be direct about what you’re looking for or need. If you want to eat lunch with someone new, state that clearly.
Example: “I don’t know many people here, Would you mind if I joined you?”
If you are Dutch or German, try not to be too straightforward “I am here because I want to do business with you” try to dance the dance a little if you know what I mean.
An introduction is a straightforward way of beginning a conversation with a stranger. It’s particularly effective if there are no other obvious conversation starters to rely on. Here’s an example:
Example: “Hi, I’m Marcela. I just started working here and I wanted to introduce myself to everyone in____”
Always, always look at other people’s name tags before you start talking.
I know, remembering names can be a nightmare, especially when you have met someone multiple times! But don’t worry, I am going to show you how to never forget a name again.
Attach a visual cue to a unique facial or body feature. This memory strategy comes from the EON-Mem (Ecologically Oriented Neurorehabilitation of Memory) program. Here is an example: This is my friend Lacy. If I met her at a party, I would think her hair looks just like an Ace with the pointed A top. Ace = L-Ace-Y.
Repeat his? her name three times. Here is an example:
- A:What is your name?
- B: My name is Lucy
- A: Nice to meet you Lucy (first time )
- A: What brings you to this event Lucy (2 times)
- A: It was nice to meet you Lucy (three times)
After you repeat their name three times you will most likely make a mental connection in your brain and you will remember it next time.
Head to the bar, decide where to “plant yourself”
The best place to stand is at the bar. A great time to start talking to someone is while they wait for their drink and once they have a drink in their hand and they are ready to mingle. This is always where I plant myself when I’m at networking events and it makes for super easy conversations.
Never pass up the opportunity to meet someone while standing in line. It is the easiest, non-awkward way to meet the person in front of and possibly even behind you. The bonus is that if you don’t enjoy speaking with them, you easily can end the conversation once you get your drink or food.
At a networking event where I really don’t know anyone, I will get back in line when it is extra long so I can meet more people easily.
It is great to stand where people exit the bar, But DON’T stand where people exit with food. This is not as good, because if you start speaking to someone with a full plate of food, it is hard to shake hands and all they want to do is eat! Instead of standing where people exit the food station, you can stand at cocktail tables or seat yourself at tables where people eat.
WHAT TO TALK ABOUT?
Have a topic of conversation ready.
The first thing you need to prepare before you go to an event or a boat show is to “know your pitch” when someone asks you how you been? What’s new? Make sure you have an answer and something interesting to say.
I personally always have a story of something I’ve been doing recently, a book either that I wrote or that I’ve been reading, my kids, family, new work projects, industry news, changes in the company, etc.
Always be casual and relaxed like talking to a friend, otherwise, everyone hates the ‘interview’ feeling, which is what happens when the conversation it’s like, ‘So what do you do? I do this. What do you do?’ oh yeah ok…(long awkward silence) That type of “conversation “is sharing facts, not insights. It’s not connecting. Remember networking is about farming about taking the time to cultivate relationships.
Tell compelling stories and make yourself interesting.
“You can close more business in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get people interested in you.” – Dale Carnegie
You should strive to be memorable when you’re meeting new people, and the best way to do so is through good storytelling. When you tell a story, make sure it has a clear point and a punch line, whether a takeaway or a joke.
Be genuinely interested in people
You might feel compelled to begin talking about yourself and all of your wonderful accomplishments when you first meet someone, but it can actually be a lot more beneficial to show more interest in the other person. People can tell. They know — maybe consciously, perhaps unconsciously — if you are truly interested in them or just faking’ it in order to manipulate or “get something” from them.
Authenticity is at the heart of all strong, long-lasting relationships
Keep it short and sweet
If you want to impress someone, present a solution, by telling a story about how you helped another person in a similar situation. Tell them about the problem and how you solved it but keep it short and sweet. Include lots of information on how disastrous things were before it came to a happy ending, where everything worked out for the better.
Before you start networking, make sure to have an agenda and keep the meetings on track. Time is money and people are never happy with someone that takes too much of their time. If you know already the list of delegates try to arrange meetings ahead of time.
The worst thing during a networking event is that person that speaks for so long, doesn’t stop talking, people already lost focus and just hold the energy tight in an uncomfortable manner with an awkward smirk on their face.
Let the other person speak
Make sure that you don’t do all the talking. The key to being a good communicator is being a good listener. If you have asked another person for advice or their opinion make sure they have the opportunity to tell it. Do not interrupt, you can talk when they finished talking.
If you do all the talking, the person may feel you are uninterested in what they have to say and unsure what action to take with the information you are providing.
Use the Head Tilt
It can be hard to make real connections at networking events, but it’s possible. And I do it using body language. My favourite move is the head tilt. The head tilt is the universal body language sign for “I’m listening.” You can do this when someone is speaking to show you are paying attention and excited to meet them. This makes you appear more charismatic. Copy their body language and mirror their moves.
Maintain eye contact and smile
By maintaining eye contact and smiling, you further reinforce that you’re interested in what someone has to say.
But when it comes to initiating conversation, holding eye contact with someone and then smiling is a major invitation to start up a conversation. Of course, you don’t want to stare at the person too much and freak them out. (!)
Can I help you?
You can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.
You need to make yourself useful and give before receiving, this creates trust and if people like you they’ll listen to you, but if they trust you they’ll do business with you.
The most important part of networking is actually about what you bring to the table-not just what you want to get out of it.
“Can I help you?” Asking this question is one of the most effective ways to build long-lasting connections. Once you help someone, you instantly become more likeable because you relieved some of their stress and added value to their life. Just like showing your appreciation, offering to help is a strategy that will earn you a positive reputation because you’re focusing on other people and not yourself.
The more people you help, the more help you’ll have and the more help you’ll have helping others.
How you help people doesn’t have to be difficult. All you need to do is offer your knowledge and/or your time – a small price to pay to gain a new relationship, especially with influential people who often need the most help.
You also can help others by harnessing your curiosity. This is one of my favourite tips for being more social. When you’re speaking with people, think about answering the following questions:
- What motivates this person?
- What is important to them?
- What energizes them?
- What do they love to talk about?
- What shuts them down or closes them off?
- What do they value?
Don’t ask for a job
I don’t know but in my experience, when people are bluntly looking for a job they lose all of their appeal and suddenly they are not interesting to talk anymore.
If you are attending a networking event because you are looking for a career move, you should never ask someone for a job. You should instead, ask people for information that will assist you in your job search. Your main goal is to build relationships and establish a rapport.
If you are interested to work for a certain company and you meet some people there, you can ask them some questions:
- How long have you been with this company?
- Or how long have you been in this field?
- What do you like or dislike about your job?
- What type of training did you need for this position?
- What is the culture of this company?
Give examples of why you are passionate about that potential job position or how you would be great at it.
Exchange business cards
Two problems always happen with business cards at networking events. First, awkwardly search for your business card when someone asks for it. Or second, losing someone’s business card so you can’t follow up the next day. Avoid having to dig through your purse or wallet to find a business card or losing the ones you get by using my system–right pocket: my business cards left pocket: other people’s business cards. You’ll never lose a card again and it makes the exchange super easy.
I have my business cards in a leather holder and I put the other cards I put them in my handbag.
Now with COVID we are using more digital cards, QR codes, etc. Makes sure you have a COVID-friendly alternative to paper.
End conversations gracefully.
I personally used to be absolutely awful, really awkward, at ending conversations. I would just stay quiet for a long period until we didn’t know what else to say and then I would walk away with an awkward shy smile waving…. bye.. ”
Remember that the last moments of a conversation will define how people remember you, so make it memorable!
Make eye contact with the person with whom he has finished speaking so it doesn’t seem as if he’s running away. Say it was nice meeting you (and repeat his name) I loved (recall a story or something he told you) exchange business cards and give a STRONG HANDSHAKE! There is nothing more disappointing than a weak slimy handshake.
Last but not least, don’t take it personally
If you meet someone who is rude, or simply not interested, DO NOT TAKE IT PERSONALLY, just move on. It tells more about them than about you. I learned that arrogant people are just using arrogant mask to cover their ignorance or insecurities.
Don’t waste your time trying to convince a restrained person that you’re actually great when you could instead be meeting plenty of other interesting people!
Sometimes when I am in a business event, I try to play a role like I pretend I am Jennifer Aniston, and my task is to meet as many people, pass a message across, start and build new relationships, collect business cards for my database and make sure I always add value.
We tend to overvalue specific people or experiences. And when you realize the diversity of exceptional human beings out there and opportunities and business deals and everything, you’re going to realize there are a lot more options than you’re giving credit to.
Find a reason (or excuse) to follow up
If you want to build a relationship with another person, create a reason to keep the relationship going.
Example: If he told you he has back pain, maybe follow up by sharing the phone number of your chiropractor. If you read an article that adds to the discussion you had during the meeting, send it to him by email, with a note on what you found interesting and what you think could benefit them.
Try to find at least 2-3 opportunities in the year, to reconnect with the members of your network.
Even if you don’t meet your network often, make sure that your online presence is always up-to-date. Remember that the goal of networking is to build relationships. A good network can result in new customers, and opportunities but make sure you are meeting people the right way. Stay active online by providing value (like what I am doing here sharing all my networking tips helping you thrive 😊)
One of the best ways to network ahead of an event or how to network online is to leverage LinkedIn. Once you added the business cards to your database, don’t forget to add them to Linked-in.
It’s completely normal to freeze when faced with the task of speaking to people at events. Just know that you’re not alone. In fact, chances are that the majority of attendees are feeling the exact same way that you are. Use the tips above as subtle reminders to help you the next time you need to attend an event.
- Talk to new people at networking events.
- Attend new events.
- Create authentic relationships.
- Bring a memorable business card.
- Be confident.
- Stay connected.
- Help others in your network.
- Revisit older connections.
I hope you enjoyed these tips, and if you ever see me at an event, please come and say hi! I promise I don’t bite 😊 Make sure you have a good joke to share with me, I love witty people!
I thrive by inspiring the new generation of yacht owners and sharing business insights to make the industry kinder and more professional moving forward.
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