I’ve decided to publish a series of blog posts on the topic of personal interaction. It’s an important element of your personal branding.
Sue Henry, an Australian networking expert, public speaker and author, says that there are three things that people worry about – and she offers tips on how you can avoid them.
Her strategies and ideas assist you in achieving your business goals in a practical and easy way.
1. Juggling, food, beverages and hand shaking
One of the most common unspoken fears amongst people networking is “How will I shake hands, exchange business cards, juggle food and drink without spilling it and looking foolish?” I have three simple rules that I follow when attending functions:
- Where possible eat before you go. Unfortunately most function centres, restaurants and conference venues serve food that is not networking friendly. You will often be in a situation where you are left holding a chicken bone, stick or oyster shell making if difficult to meet people and exchange cards.
- Eating before you go will assist you by minimising the chance of spilling food, drink or having something green stay in your teeth for all to see. Importantly, you will be more focused on what is going on and less likely to stalk the waiter because you haven’t eaten all day.
- Avoid alcohol at business networking functions. I love a wine as much as the next person, but not everyone does and you certainly do not want to be ‘the drunk’ at the event or breathing alcohol breath on others. Remember it is a business function and not party time! If you want to drink, alternate alcohol with water or ask for a half glass serving.
I like to wear what I refer to as networking friendly clothes. I select clothing items (jackets) that have pockets so that I can always have easy access to my business cards and a place to put cards from the people I meet.
Ladies, ensure you select a networking friendly handbag that allows easy access to your business cards. Gentlemen, try not to take your briefcase, if this is unavoidable, see if there is somewhere at the venue you can check it in or have it stored safely until your departure. The last thing you want to be doing is some type of pow wow dance around your briefcase. It will be distracting for you and the people you meet.
Wear comfortable shoes, especially if you are standing at an event, leaning from one side to another looks uncomfortable and can be distracting. When standing, ensure your weight is distributed evenly and your stance is even, then you will be able to stand for much longer and remain focused on your conversations rather than your sore, tired feet!
3. Being left alone, talking to a bore and breaking into group conversations
If you are worried about not knowing anyone at the function or event and having no-one to talk to, make sure you call ahead and ask the organiser to introduce you to someone when you arrive so that you won’t be left standing alone. It is in the organiser’s best interests to do this as they want their attendees to have an enjoyable experience.
Extracting yourself from a boring or teeth pulling conversation is probably one of the most stressful networking experiences you can have and it is usually what stops most people from attending functions regularly.
Before you go to a business networking event, be armed with some well directed questions that can steer the conversation the way you want it to go or be prepared with some standard extraction techniques.
My two favourites are:
- “Excuse me, I need to use the bathroom.” Make sure you actually go.
- “I have come here today with an aim to meet three new people, it’s been great speaking with you. Please excuse me”. Include a third person in the conversation and extract yourself in a pleasant and friendly manner.
There are a few methods I use to break into existing conversations.
The first is to make eye contact with one of the people and smile at them and simply say “Do you mind if I join you?” Simple! In all the networking I have done, and the thousands I have spoken to, no-one has ever experienced “No you can’t."
Secondly, ask someone else to break in and introduce you. As mentioned earlier, the organiser really does want you to enjoy yourself and not feel stressed, so ask them to introduce you.
Thirdly take a buddy that can do the conversation openers for you. Be careful not to just speak to them for the entire event as this will contradict what you are aiming to do.
Above all else remember to be yourself, talk about the things you know and are passionate about. Always ask questions and enjoy yourself, business networking is not meant to be a stressful activity. In fact it really can be a lot of fun and extremely rewarding.