Talking with a coaching client last week we were strategising ways they could aim to meet their potential employers of choice. I started asking about their industry networking events and they turned to me and said…
“The thought of networking makes me sick! Walking into a room of people I probably don’t know and coming up with small talk is worse than going to the dentist!”
Having coached hundreds of executives on getting their next career opportunity or board role this comment is not uncommon. However as an executive the art of networking is one that you need to conquer as there will be many situations where you need to make small talk and try and engage with complete strangers.
Networking does come more naturally to some more than others. So how can we make it less painful and more enjoyable?
1. Be able to articulate who you are, what you do and your usp – Some articulate it as “Name, Same, different”. Introduce yourself, what company you are from, define what the company does and your differentiator, your unique selling point.
The best way to do this is to write it down until it sounds right and then practice saying it “naturally” (the operative word).
2. Ensure you have read up on current affairs and have a couple of ice breakers in your back pocket – ideally sport and social affairs not politics! Have a comment/ questions that you can put out to the person/ group you have joined. “I can’t believe how much we lost to the All Blacks on the weekend – did you catch the game?” It needs to be something that will start a conversation but not evoke a fight!
3. Have some general questions you can use to learn more about the other person. The majority of people in attendance at a business function ideally want to expand their network just as much as you. They too will more than likely be nervous and dislike having to walk up to complete strangers to start a conversation. So what is appropriate to ask?
- What line of business are you in?
- What sort of challenges do you solve?
- Who are your key clients? What geographies? Do you work with…?
- How is technology changing your industry?
Be curious as people love to talk about themselves and their business. Don’t be afraid to say I haven’t come across your business before, exactly what do you do?
Networking is one of the hardest parts of many peoples jobs, particularly when you are going to an event by yourself. Personally I don’t love it, however once I’ve got through the door and walked up to the first person or group I see and introduced myself I find the nerves wash away. Meeting new and interesting business people that may or may not be able to help my business is great. I love to hear about what others are doing in their business that is new or unique.
And once you are back at your desk connect with those you met on LinkedIn.
Today is National Networking day and AIM is holding events around Australia – take the first step as you never know where it may lead for your business.
Fiona Cochran is a Managing Partner with Arete Executive. She is an Executive Search specialist that works with executives and boards on business critical roles across Australia. She also coaches executives on their job search strategy to achieve job of choice with employer of choice. Connect with Fiona on LinkedIn.