Choosing the frock, the suit, the tie or earrings is the fun part of any networking event, from business breakfasts to award nights to a day at the Melbourne Cup. For most of us, it’s all downhill from there.
What is really bring us out in a sweat is tackling the issue of small-talk – meeting, greeting and conversing in a way that is intelligent, appropriate to the occasion and likely to leave a great impression.
Networking is a powerful tool; we know instinctively the next big deal or the next job opportunity can land in our lap in the aftermath of a deftly-handled exchange in the semi-social business event.
No pressure, right?
A quick look at the net will not help you much. Asinine suggestions for conversation starters such as “What’s the weather been like up your way?” or “What is your favourite food?” are going to dazzle no one.
Brilliant networkers have a plan.
Great networkers are selective about the events they attend, or the ones they stage for their clients.
If they are hosting the event, supremo networkers select guests carefully based on their knowledge of their clients’ preferences, says corporate communications consultant, Marjorie Johnston.
“It’s important to think about your objectives. You are really trying to say thank you, and not trying to sell something,” she says. “Do things such as brief the people from your company who are going to be present about conversation, who’s coming, and how to look after them.”
The goal is to make the event memorable and special.
If you are not the host, it is still worth thinking about why you are there. This helps to whittle down the number of events. Fewer events with more effective outcomes is less exhausting and more enjoyable for all but the most extroverted of us.
The size of the spend
Corporate entertainment and networking is expensive, hence the need for clarity of purpose. The trend, in the current environment and possibly for good, is against the lavish affair, says Johnston.
“The days of doing lavish Chateaux de Versailles Christmas party have probably passed and that is a good thing. But a lot of companies have high-level in-house dining facilities and clients like to be invited in to those on occasion. Or you can find a private room that is a bit low-key at a restaurant. It is more about the experience than the $300 bottle of Champagne.”
Events that invite participation make for memorable days, provided there is no pressure and alternatives to the main activity. “If the event is focused around an activity, where people get involved – but not a ropes course – people meet in a relaxed setting,” Johnston says.
With the set-up carefully considered, here how the great networkers make a lasting impression:
The most-loved opening line
“Hello. I’m XXX.” From dating to networking, the best is the simplest. Say hello, shake hands and introduce yourself. The other person will almost certainly return the introduction.
You can use the hello and handshake to join a couple of people talking when there is a small lull in the conversation. If you introduce yourself to a group larger than two, try to pick four rather than three. The group will then most likely break into a three and a pair. Groups of four typically do not last long (believe me, this is well documented) and you may find yourself having to make another introduction too soon, which is exhausting.
An observation, followed by a question, will set the conversation on track. “I’ve enjoyed tonight’s talk. It really made me think. What did you think about it?” “It’s a big turnout tonight. Have you attended this breakfast series before?” Try to avoid the most hackneyed of intros: “So what do you do?”