The Art of Networking: Making a Connection

This is the second of a four-part series of blogs on The Art of Networking. In my previous article, I discussed how to break the ice in a networking setting. Here, we concentrate on how to make those all-important introductions.

To get value from any networking event you need to do some preparation.

Introductions are about making a connection and discovering whether you are both interested in having a longer, more substantial conversation afterwards. Don’t try to have deep conversations here otherwise you’ll lose valuable time to meet others. Quantity not quality is the aim of a large networking event. You can sort the wheat from the chaff later.

You basically have two options: either you get in first or they peer at your name badge inevitably placed awkwardly on your chest and say “oh so you’re with Company A…..”

Here are some tips for getting in first and making meaningful and effective introductions:

  1. Introduce yourself with your first name only: Your first name is much easier to hear in a crowded room, as we tend to run our first and last names together. At a recent event, I was convinced I was talking to somebody I met called Tanqueray (like the gin), only to discover from his business card that his name was Dan Gray.
  2. Keep your questions and responses open, so that you can keep momentum in the conversation. It’s better to say “I’m an analyst focusing on US equities” than to say “I work for Company A and I’m an Associate Analyst”. The company doesn’t define you.  You define you.
  3. If they started the conversation; have a response that leads to a question.  When they say “so you’re with Company A….” don’t just reply with “Yes.” That doesn’t help the conversation move along. A slightly better response is “Yes.  And you?”  But good networkers say “You sound like you know us already….how have you come across us?”
  4. Find something you have in common to comment upon. You’re at the same event so it could be as simple as the speaker you’ve just heard, the food, the venue;  it’s simply a way of getting started.  If someone does this to you, take the hint and switch the conversation to a relevant topic.  Three weeks’ ago, I was at a networking event, and made a passing comment to a lady near me about the catering.  Unfortunately, this prompted a lengthy monologue about her recent 20lb weight loss. Whilst I was pleased for her of course, it wasn’t why I was there.  I actually had a genuine interest in her company but I exited the conversation as quickly and politely as I could and found her colleague who was able to talk to me about the new technology platform they have just launched.
  5. Talk topics. Since you don’t have much time with each person, certainly not enough to get to know them, have a couple of topics in mind when you go into the conversation.  By that I mean, a question, observation, news story, experience you had in your own organization that’s relevant to the theme of the event and that you can use to get some opinion-sharing.  At a recent Women in Banking conference, the highlight moment for me was meeting a lady who talked about her view of the markets…… It had so much more credibility, interest and purpose than talking about being a woman or women’s issues.

As I mentioned in my first post, networking never feels natural, so don’t make things difficult for yourself. Keep your questions and responses open, so that the person you’re talking to has every opportunity to keep the conversation flowing. An investment in preparation before events like this is worth it: have some questions or openers in mind so you don’t have to worry about thinking of something interesting on the spot. At your next event, keep a mental note of the openers that worked well for you, so you can use them again. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, networking gets easier with practice.

The next article in this blog series will cover the tricky topic of how to exit a conversation & the all important follow-up. Stay tuned!

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