I was at a conference recently. All was going well. I had been invited to run workshops on ‘Building your Resilience’ and the room was bursting at the seams. The signals that let me know that people were engaged and on track were evident. The group was buzzing with conversation, flipcharts were appearing on the wall, questions were being asked. A few people stayed on at the end to chat, sharing ideas and experiences. Then it was lunch. I packed away my things feeling that mixture of relief, excitement and tiredness that accompanies the end of any training and headed for the break out area. A wall of people met me, plates already in hand, drinks balanced carefully, a hubbub of chatter as little groups of two, three and four stood, heads tilted towards each other deep in conversation. In that moment, my elation from the morning began to slide. I had to engage in the dreaded networking.
Like many people I feel on safer ground when I have a purpose and a role in my conversations. Sometimes it is hard to know where to start when the introductions are down to me and it feels rude and awkward to barge in on conversations. I took a deep breath and here are 6 things I did that day:
- I got some food and turned to the person next to me who was also filling their plate. “Hi, I’m Sarah Smith, I’ve just run a workshop here, how did the one you attended go?” This got the conversation going – an open question that got her talking – anything to get the conversation moving.
- I scanned the room quickly for a couple of people who were already together, standing at a table. The ones I chose didn’t look exclusive. Choosing an “open” group of two or three where their bodies are facing slightly outwards is easier to join.
- I suggested to my new acquaintance that we move to them, in part because there was somewhere to put our plates. I asked if they were happy for us to join. Being polite is a must.
- After a moment of listening to their conversation, I introduced my new acquaintance and then myself. I commented on something I’d heard the pair discuss and linked this back to something my new acquaintance had said so that she could join in too. Take your time, listen, and as you speak draw others in.
- Then I stood back a bit, ate my food and listened, really enjoying the chance to find out about their experiences of the conference, their challenges at work and how they were managing these. Put your attention on the other people, they can be really interesting.
- Finally, after what turned into a really enjoyable half hour, I offered my business card and took theirs so that we could stay touch. The point of networking is to increase your contacts. Follow up with an email after to say how much you had enjoyed the conversation.