If you’ve decided that 2022 is going to be a rocket ride to better things, then networking can launch you towards where you want to be. The idea of networking often comes with fearful thoughts about bothering people you don’t know, with things you don’t want to tell them in the hope of getting to…you’re not quite sure where. These worries come from common questions. Working as a journalist, I often had to start a ‘cold conversation’, and in swapping notes with our seasoned trainers, we’ve come up with a few answers guaranteed to help.

5 top tips on career-boosting networking skills

1. How do I introduce myself?

Professional development opportunities often begin with networking. When approaching someone new, at an event for example, maybe start with a person on their own. Come across as friendly but confident, someone they would want to chat with. Offer a hand, look them in the eye, and be friendly and interested while introducing yourself. Catch their name and repeat it.

Perhaps you don’t know who the person is or whether they might be of any help in your career. How to find out? Some people suggest starting with a joke or an observation, however both risk falling flat or leading to nowhere. Most of us prefer chatting about interesting things rather than comments about the weather, so maybe start with a question. For example, what’s their interest in the event?

Listen to their answer, and use it to spark another question or two. Tell them a little about you, then switch back to them. And when you feel ready to do so, be polite and move on (see below for tips on exiting a conversation). If there are only groups talking, look for the openings. Enter the conversation by saying who you are and use a light opener – ask how they know each other. This respects the fact that they are already talking. Smile and be courteous, this is a good time to be humble without being shy. Show that you are listening, interested and paying attention.

2. How do I chat to someone who’s chatting to someone else?

Perhaps you’ve spotted someone you need to talk to, but they’re chatting to someone else.  Don’t wait beside them without making your presence known, nor interrupt them. Best to appear confident though patient. Approach them, keep your distance, wait to catch their eye, and in the second they look at you, smile, stand still and relax. The message is clear: you’re patiently waiting.

Effectively, you’re interrupting after all, but in a patient way. Besides, at networking events, people expect to be interrupted. When they’re ready to chat, introduce yourself then talk about them – their speech, their project, their whatever it was that caught your eye. Perhaps congratulate them on something, or ask them to clarify a point.

Try win to their interest in talking to you, before trying to win their interest in you. It’s an important difference. It helps if they see that you both have a mutual interest in something. It’s important to relax, be present, hear their name and absorb what they say. Then, when they’re taking you seriously, tell them about you. This way, they’re more likely to take a genuine interest in you.

3. How do I get myself noticed without sounding arrogant?

Many people find it difficult to talk about themselves and their achievements. We might imagine we need to be humble and modest. It might feel awkward to blow your own trumpet, but there are ways around this. Begin by discussing something you’ve done that made a difference, emphasise how it has helped your team or company. You are talking about a project, not just yourself, but it’s important to include your role.

Say what you did, and let others make their own judgement about the value of your contribution. Explaining to people how terrific you are comes off much better when you talk objectively about something. It’s the difference between explaining why the work you were involved with was important, rather than why you were important yourself.

It might help to find an advocate, someone who can make your case for you. It’s always useful when someone behind the scenes is on your side. In the meantime, you can ask someone to back you up in a conversation with others. This is best done in support of your own comments, rather than as an alternative to them.

4. How do I exit a conversation?

Sometimes people feel guilty about leaving conversations. They come up with an excuse such as “I’m going to get another coffee” or “I’m going to the toilet” or “I must go and speak to that person”, but the best way of leaving a conversation is to be honest.

If you want to talk to the person another time, give your contact details and tell them that you are going to meet some more people. If you don’t want to talk again, then be polite and say that you are going to network with some more people and it was great to meet them.

Another way to move on is to bring someone else into the conversation and then leave them to make the connection together. This is known as ‘park and ride’, effective networkers are very good at moving through the room making connections between people.

5. How do I follow up?

The benefits of networking come from keeping in touch. If you want to leverage the contacts you develop at a networking event, it is important to follow up. The best thing to do is to make a note of when you met someone and when you said you’d get back in touch so that you don’t forget. It’s best to follow a three-day rule, follow up within the next three days while they remember who you are and what you talked about.

Sshh…the secret is they’re just as human as you are

Networking is about connecting with people, sharing experiences, gaining ideas and offering solutions, it’s an art that can be practised and improved. A lot of this comes down to basic good manners – remembering names, giving people the opportunity to talk and listening properly to what they have to say, for example. No-one likes to feel like they are being tapped for information or pushed for favours. Good networkers tend to be people who are interested in others and like hearing what they have to say.

Ultimately, the secret to networking is something that you’re already aware of but might not have formally recognised. Your existing relationships, whether professional or personal, are shaped by emotion. The emotional bond with someone in your family will be different to what you have with your boss, but both relationships are marked by a package of emotions, whether these include love and understanding, respect and appreciation or something else. Networking is no different. Our training course on networking skills will help you build connections with people, not through need, but based on sincere emotions. Scary as networking might be, the people you want to connect with are only as human as you are.

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