In the variety of networking events I attend, it still amazes me how people ignore the importance of first impressions. One particular instance comes to mind.
At a summer breakfast networking event I attended, I was introduced to a lawyer who was clearly a bit worse for wear. She’d had a great time at Ascot’s Ladies Day the day before, but then she made the strange decision to come to a networking session early the following day. With a hangover obvious for all to see (and smell), turning up to the session didn’t really do her any favours.
So in this article I’ve shared some simple and practical tips to ensure your first impressions at the networking events you attend are indeed positive ones.
Some considerations before you go…
Feeling rough? Perhaps postpone
If you’re feeling under the weather, then consider passing this networking opportunity by. Send in your apologies (with as much notice as possible) and postpone your attendance until the next time.
The rationale here is that at a networking event your professional profile and reputation is placed firmly under the spotlight. People will size you up straight away and form an opinion from their first impressions of you. It really helps then if you’re feeling 100+% and have prepared for the event as you would an important meeting. And if you feel you’re coming down with a bug, again stay away. You don’t want to become known for the person who infected everyone they spoke to!
Prepare as you would an important business meeting
When you’re due to attend a breakfast networking session, try and avoid alcohol and strong smelling food (especially garlic) the night before. Get everything you need for the session ready before you go to bed, to avoid a mad panic in the morning. It sounds obvious I know, but it’s incredible how many people don’t do this and then arrive at the event late, stressed or without the things they need.
And if your networking session is later in the day, again prepare for it. Allow yourself time to get there and freshen up. Avoid turning up flustered, dishevelled and untidy. If you are stressed, people will spot it in your appearance (and they’ll probably conclude you’re like that all the time). Being stressed out doesn’t create a positive first impression.
Dress code and what to take
Dress appropriately for the event and wear comfortable shoes if it’s one which involves a lot of standing around. When you’re unsure what the dress-code is, it’s perfectly ok to ask the organisers. If you’re going to be outside, factor in the weather forecast when deciding your attire.
Opt for a jacket with a pocket, or take a small handbag with a shoulder strap that can carry your business card holder, a pen and a small notebook or your phone to jot down any follow up points that come out of your discussions.
Helpful tips for creating positive first impressions at a networking event
…facing the entrance is ideal, as you can keep an eye on who is arriving. Another good spot is by the refreshments as people naturally gravitate in that direction when they arrive.
2. Avoid having to juggle
Remember you’re likely to be handed a drink and copy of the guest list when you arrive. You will also need to shake hands with people as and when you meet them. Where possible then, avoid having other things to carry in your hands as these will only get in the way.
If you’re right handed wear any name badge you are given on the right; if you are left handed then pin it to the left. That way when you naturally lean in to shake hands your badge is closer to the person and not tilted away from them. It will give people a decent chance to read your name and imprint in their mind who you are.
4. Devise an interesting introduction which encourages people to want to know more (practise in advance).
As well as saying your name and company try and mention what you do to help your customers/clients. If you can talk in terms of the benefits your customers get from working with you and what you like about your work, then your ‘elevator’ pitch will be a lot more memorable and interesting.
5. Get your handshake right
Be warm and welcoming and approach people who are on their own. Make sure your handshake is neither too weak, nor too strong. Practise with a friend, colleague or member of your family to get feedback on how yours feels.
If you want people to come to you, then stand in open groups (where one side of the group is open to the room). If you want to have a discussion with some people without being disrupted, then create a closed group.
7. Building rapport during a conversation
It’s understandable if you’re nervous, most people are at networking events. Make it easy on yourself and take the initative to ask people about themselves after the initial greeting. Listen to what they tell you. Not only does this give you a little breather, it helps you assess what aspect of your work and interests will most engage that person when it’s your turn to speak.
You are likely to uncover more opportunities to build rapport if you listen more than you speak. Use what you’ve learnt from the other person to share some relevant insight and find points of commonality between the two of you. Also try to convey your experience and expertise by sharing concise examples and stories, rather than bland statements. Stories and examples will stick in people’s minds more and help them to remember you.
8. Create a follow up opportunity
If there’s an individual you think could be a good contact going forward, try and engineer a follow up activity after the session. Offer to send them something or call to fix a coffee to talk further about that particular issue.
9. Move around
Try not to spend all your time with one person. Move around so that you get to meet a number of people during the session. If you do need to move on, try and help the person you’ve been with to move on too. Extract yourself politely by either offering to introduce them to someone else, or taking them over to join another group. Once they’re happy talking, indicate that there’s someone else you need to speak to and move on.
People spend a lot of time on networking events. These sessions can be a great way to forge new business relationships and win business, but to do that you do need to understand what first impressions you’re creating. Work hard to create good ones. Having a genuine interest in people really helps.
And once you have created a good impression, remember it needs further nurturing if a contact will want to meet you again and work with you in some way. Follow up the contacts you make in the timeframe you’ve promised. Deliver on your promises and prove yourself a worthy professional to get to know further. For more help here – see our article How To Follow Up Networking Events
For more advice and coaching on how to improve your networking contact us or tel. 01483 429111.