Networking. The thought of smalltalk with strangers in a business setting is enough to send a shiver down the spine of most people.
But networking is important, even for introverts. Building personal relationships is key, particularly in the Maritimes, where relationships count for so much.
We asked Krista Ross, chief executive officer of Fredericton Chamber of Commerce, and Nicola MacLeod, business intelligence coordinator for Ignite Fredericton, to weigh in on where to start and how to follow through in networking settings.
Here’s their advice:
1. Do some prep
- Having topics in mind before you approach someone will help avoid awkward silences and make you seem like you have it together.
- Think about who might be at the event you’re attending and what you have in common with them. Knowing something about people you approach shows you’re interested and worth talking to.
- Bring business cards to hand out to people you talk to.
- Practice your handshake on friends. There’s nothing worse than limply holding hands with someone you’ve just met.
2. Be approachable, easy to talk to and assertive
- Have a look around and decide who you want to approach first. It’s fine to start with someone you know but don’t stick with them the whole time.
- Make eye contact and smile like you’re a normal human. Be interested in what people are saying.
- Be careful about carrying around food and drink. You only have two hands and giving out cards and shaking hands is more important than that complimentary glass of wine.
- Get in that opening line you’ve already thought of and be prepared to describe what you do without being long winded.
- Don’t make too much small talk. Dive deeper by asking open ended questions about what they do. Do more listening than talking.
- But know where the creepy line is. Don’t say you think a stranger’s dog is cute because you saw it on their Facebook page.
- Be positive in your conversations and opinions.
- Know how to get out of a conversation smoothly. Tell them it’s been nice chatting and that you’ll follow up with them (if you will).
3. Use that social media
- Consider tweeting about the event you’re going to. Hashtag away. LinkedIn is also good for this.
- Take a photo or two during the event for tweeting. You might want to tag the host if they have an account.
- Start following people you meet on Twitter and connect with them on LinkedIn. Personalize that LinkedIn invite.
4. Follow Up
- If you talk to someone you think you might be able to do business with, suggest getting together another time. Don’t be afraid to ask them to coffee to talk about why you’re interested in what they do.
- Actually follow through with promises to touch base again.
- If there is someone you’d like to meet at another time, ask a mutual acquaintance to make introductions. Even email intros work. Be open to doing the same for others.
Now you’re set. Get out there and meet some new people.