Business Networking: Field of Dreams or Minefield?

City Academy Business Networking Peter Spring

Our Sales Director, Peter Spring shares his experiences and tips on business networking.

I love networking events. I love walking into a room full of individuals, each with their own quirks, sense of humour, tastes, talents and opinions about networking events. There’s something tantalizing about starting a conversation with a stranger or group of strangers and seeing where it goes. But I know not everyone feels the same and I certainly enjoy networking more now than I used to. You might absolutely dread these interactions and just long for the moment when it’s acceptable to leave.

There might things you can do  though to make networking events bearable – or even enjoyable. So here are my 7 top tips for maneuvering the social minefield:

1. Decide What You Want

If you’re not clear about why you’re at an event, it’s likely that you’ll leave feeling you could have behaved differently. Actors and directors speak often about the importance of intention. Without intention Romeo doesn’t approach Juliet, Frodo stays in The Shire and Walter White doesn’t pack in his teaching job for a dabble on the dark side. In short, very little happens!

So although you’re not battling the forces of Mordor, the point still stands: clarifying your intent is vital. It will direct your conversation and approach and put you in the driving seat – especially when things don’t quite go as planned. Consider why you’re attending at all and verbalise your intention on your way to the event. I’m always muttering to myself before events – organizing my thoughts, imagining scenarios and rehearsing conversations. There are certainly questions you’ll be asked so it’s useful to consider how you want to answer “what do you do?”, “what are you working on at the moment” and “how is business?”. Remember people like to be surprised so consider highlighting some interesting and unexpected tidbits of information you can share.

2. Start Small

Big conversations start small...but that starting point can be difficult to grab hold of! I’ve found that an easy place to start is by looking someone in the eye, smiling and saying hello. If this sounds simple, that’s because it is! Science tells us that smiling elicits positive emotion, even if you’re nervous or not quite feeling it, smiling has the magical effect of changing your mood and the mood of the lucky person you’re speaking to. Once you’ve made eye contact and made a connection say hi. No one is affronted or bored by a simple “hi” or “hello”.

3. Be Curious

Whether we recognise it or not, each of us holds an endless supply of stories within us. By being curious about the person you’re speaking with you’ll quickly overcome nerves, find common interests and gain useful insights. The best networkers are those that not only make professional connections with those in the room but are also able to connect others at the event.

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4. Read Signals

When you’re networking remember to put your focus outwards. Make eye contact with the person or people you’re with and observe their body language. Are they interested in what you’re saying? Do they seem tired, bored, stressed, distracted or engaged and present? Observing others and reading subtle signals will allow you to alter your approach and adapt the content of what you’re saying to establish a stronger connection.

5. Go With the Flow

Unfortunately for those with a penchant for logic and structure, networking is more of an art than a science. The only logical way to navigate the conversational landscape is to listen to the other person and connect with what they are saying. Think of it as a team rather than a solo effort - if you’re doing all the talking, you’re probably doing something wrong.

6. Involve Others

Conversations don’t always run smoothly. It takes a while to establish a genuine connection and, with 8 billion of us interacting all the time, it isn’t going to happen every time. An easy way to get the ball rolling if things are feeling a little stilted is to bring other people in on the conversation. You could do this by making eye contact with a passerby or even suggesting you take a walk around the room or to the bar for a top-up. Walking up to new people at a networking event is not only completely acceptable - it’s how it’s done.

7. Practice

Like any new skill, the best way to really find your groove with networking is to practice. The more conversations you have, the more you’ll begin to enjoy putting yourself out there.

After all, what’s the worst that can happen? So leave your commuter etiquette at the door and strike up a conversation with a stranger - who knows where it might end up.

City Academy runs bespoke Networking courses for business. Find out more here.

Looking for more networking opportunities? Check out my suggestions of where to start:

Urbano - Good for Creatives

BNC - Good for Event Professionals

CIPD - Good for L&D/HR Professionals

British Chamber of Commerce - Good for large tender opportunities across sectors

Federation of Small Businesses - Good for SMEs

London Underground - Good for practicing your newfound skills on the go!