My local Chamber (Coventry and Warwickshire) organised a networking masterclass.
The morning began with general networking while everyone was arriving. People were dotted around the room and some had formed small groups.
Then, a woman addressed the room. She would be leading the masterclass. Her name – Sue…Sue Tonks.
She’d been observing us all and had asked certain groups to stay put in the groups that had naturally formed in the general networking. They were going to be the subjects of a practical session.
We all stood around them in a circle and Sue began the session. Her energetic and animated approach instantly put everyone at ease.
She poked fun at those awkward networking situations and gave us practical ways to overcome them. I learnt lots and laughed lots too. Here are my takeaways…
How to approach individuals and groups
When you first enter the room, take a moment to look around before approaching anyone. Chances are, you’ll head for the person standing on their own (I did this!). They’ll probably be on their phone or making themselves look busy, but they’ll be relieved to see you coming!
It’s easy to approach one person…but what about groups of two or more? Sue took us through the groups you typically come across.
- Two people standing at an angle with one foot pointed outwards – welcoming
- Easy to join
- Forms a triangle shape when you join
- Two people directly facing each other – unwelcoming
- Difficult to join
- Three people standing in an open triangle shape (like a semi-circle) – welcoming
- Easy to join
- Forms a square shape when you join
- Three people standing in a triangle shape – unwelcoming
- Difficult to join
- Four people standing in an open square shape, with an opening at one side for you to join – welcoming
- Forms a circle shape when you join
- Four people standing in a square shape – unwelcoming
- Difficult to join
Groups of more than four
It’s difficult to join a circle of people because there’s no easy way to enter it. It relies on someone in that group playing host and welcoming you in, forcing the group to expand… that or nuzzling your way in (not recommended).
How to approach a group on your own
Ask if you can join (it’s good manners). Hopefully, they’ll say – ‘of course you can. My name’s ‘x’ and you are?’ …giving you a perfect introduction to the group – at which point the group should make space for you to join.
How to welcome someone into your group
If you’re already in a group and someone approaches you, act as the host so that person feels welcome. If they ask to join, say ‘of course you can…I’m ‘x’ and you are?’ and continue with the introductions. Body language is everything, so keep your body language open and don’t exclude anyone.
Networking nightmare – what to do when you forget names
What if you’re playing host and you’ve forgotten someone’s name? Aargh. It’s okay. Sue has a genius method to combat this. It’s called the magic hand.
Picture the scenario. You and the new person have introduced yourselves and you move on to introduce the rest of the people in the group. You don’t know their names, so you say ‘and this is…’ at which point to extend out your arm… and as if by magic, they say their name. It works!
Do this for everyone in the group and they will follow suit, introducing themselves.
There’s a rule for this, though! You either use the magic hand for everyone…or no-one. If you know one person’s name in the group, still use the magic hand as people will expect you to then introduce everyone by name (cue awkward moments).
How to escape a conversation
If you’re conscious you’re spending a lot of time with one person/one group and you’d like to make a swift exit, there are simple ways to do it without seeming rude.
- The toilet excuse – no-one will want to go with you (hopefully)
- Tell people it’s been lovely to meet them, but you’ve got some people you’d like to catch up with before the session ends
It’s easier to escape if you’re in a group compared to a 121 situation, especially if that group hasn’t welcomed you in!
Networking = building relationships
The second part of the session was theory-based. Some of the key points here were:
- Be interested in others
- Introduce yourself by saying your first name. Then pause. Then say your first name and surname together (makes it easier for people to process and remember – notice Sue…Sue Tonks)
- You’ll always have something in common with the person you’re talking to – even if it’s just the weather or your journey getting to the event so there are always opportunities for you to build rapport. If you get stuck for things to say, ask them about a past event – ‘so, what got you into x’ or ‘what did you do at the weekend?’
- When someone asks us what we do, we usually say our job title – not what we do. Instead, tell them what you do to and how it helps/solves a problem. For example – ‘I write content to help businesses build customer relationships and sell their products/services.‘
- Don’t give out your business card unless someone asks for it. If someone’s asked for it, you can use it as an opportunity to set up a follow-up call/meeting. Write down where you met the person on the business card and any follow-up actions. If you’ve said you’ll follow up, make sure you do!
The fear of rejection
As obvious as it sounds, the networking masterclass reminded me that we’re all human. Sue said at the beginning of the session we’re all scared of one thing…REJECTION – and it’s true. Networking can feel daunting, awkward and uncomfortable. It’s no wonder really – we’re putting ourselves out there where rejection is a possibility. But knowing everyone is there for the same reason is reassuring. We’re all in the same boat!
The title of the masterclass was ‘Networking with Fun, Confidence and Professionalism’ and it’s definitely made me feel better prepared for future events. It was great to catch up with familiar faces and meet new businesses too.
For more networking tips, check out Sue Tonk’s website to watch her series of short videos.