Do you find it hard to network at events? Perhaps it’s difficult to start conversations which lead to new business relationships? Or are you planning your next event and are unsure how to include your audience in the networking sessions you have planned? You're not alone. Read our latest article on how to get the most from networking at business events.
Not everyone's a good networker
Networking is sometimes seen as an artform and not everyone is good at it. Actually, it's not that they're not good at it, but with a world of neurodiverse people, we need to cater to everyone’s needs. It can be challenging for some event participants to break through and shine at networking or business matchmaking events (for an in-depth blog on this topic, check out 13 tips to improve neurodiversity at your event).
In this article we're going to take a look at some of the actions you can take to become a better networker, whether you're an introvert or extrovert. Plus how event organizers and planners can cater for a neurodiverse audience.
The importance of networking
Networking is an incredibly important tool to have in your professional arsenal. Whether you are looking for a new partner or a new prospect to sell to, networking can help you to achieve your goals by building solid business relationships.
A good networking opportunity has many benefits. It can:
- Help you to build relationships with other professionals in your field
- Provide a better understanding of your industry.
- Identify new opportunities, whether that is finding a new client or business partner.
- Be great fun! Great personal friendships can sometimes result from business networking events.
Before we get into the nitty gritty of how to network at events, it's important to remember that not everyone is the same. In fact, according to a report by the World Health Organisation (read that here), 1 in 100 children are on the autism spectrum. So the likelihood of you having attendees at your events with additional needs is high.
What this means is that they may experience the world differently and may find social situations, such as networking, more challenging.
When organising events, it's important to bear this in mind and make your event as inclusive as possible. This could mean having a quiet room available for people who need a break from the noise or provide detailed information in advance so people know what to expect.
Making your networking events more inclusive
Ensure you provide information in advance about what the event will entail. This will help participants to prepare and feel more comfortable about attending.
- Have a designated quiet area where people can go if they need a break from the noise. Ensure this is featured on your event’s interactive floor plan.
- Provide name badges so people can easily identify one another.
- Encourage people to mingle by having ice-breaker activities. Not everyone is good at walking up to strangers and striking up conversation.
- Follow up with everyone who attended the event and ensure to include those who may have found it more challenging to network.
- Create smaller, more intimate networking areas, with fewer people in quieter areas.
- Offer non-alcoholic options. Although some like to take the edge off awkward situations with a drink, not everyone is the same.
9 networking skills to stand out
There's a plethora of tips on the internet about the basics of networking. Dress appropriately, carry business cards, make eye contact, etc… We’ve heard them all before! Instead, let’s take a look at nine lesser-known tips that will help you establish and maintain business relationships:
- It starts online: Building your profile, commenting on articles, sharing stories, tweeting replies: all of these help you to get noticed before you even arrive at an in-person networking event. People feel like they know you before they've even met you!
- Have your story ready: Practise your elevator pitch so you can quickly and succinctly explain what you do, how it helps people and why you're passionate about it.
- Go with a friend or colleague: You'll likely already know someone in your network that is attending the event. So partnering up will help you instantly relax, knowing you have support from someone else in the audience.
- Listen: You'll learn a lot about your industry and what's important to the people in it. Opportunities will present themselves if you're tuned in. Be genuinely interested and people will be interested in you. Take useful parts from one connection and use them as a conversation starter for the next.
- Learn to lip read: You're probably already doing this. Many people lip-read at a similar level. A person can be more or less fluent at it, depending on their own hearing abilities but if you can learn to advance your lip reading, you'll be able to better understand people in noisy environments. This will allow you to follow along with conversations and speak more clearly to those who may also be struggling to hear, resulting in a more engaging conversation.
- Be passionate: It's easy to see through someone faking their enthusiasm. Be genuinely passionate about what you do, and people will be passionate about working with you. It's not all about business, sometimes the best deals come from building solid relationships with like-minded individuals.
- Be yourself: Following on from the above point, if you try to be someone you're not, people will see through it and you'll only end up alienating people. Be confident in your own abilities and people will take notice. If you're struggling to connect with someone, ask them about their weekend or how their kids are doing. It'll help to build rapport. Finally, networking can feel like a bit of a performance, but people are more likely to remember you - and want to work with you - if they know the real you.
- Don't take yourself too seriously: Networking should be fun! If you're not enjoying it, then you're not doing it right. Go in with the mindset that you'll meet some interesting people and have some great conversations. And if you don't, then at least you tried.
- Make notes: Don't worry if you need to type into your phone straight after a conversation. Just get the relevant information down quickly after the meeting to aid the next conversation. Ideally, you’d use the CRM app on your phone so the rest of the business can read your meeting insights quickly.
Bringing it all together
So, there you have it, Grip’s top tips on how to network successfully at business networking events. Remember: it's not just about getting the sale, networking is about building long-term business relationships. It's a two-way street, so give more than you take to make an impression. Good luck out there and have fun!