The art of networking

The Business Show took place earlier this month at ExCeL London, with thousands of delegates involved in UK and international business hearing from key note speakers, masterclasses, advice and guidance. It’s was a great opportunity for any current or would-be business owner.

It was a massive event, and if you went or you plan to go to future events of this size you’d be forgiven for perhaps feeling a little overwhelmed as you step through the doors.

If it’s any consolation, lots of other people will be feeling the same…these events can be just as intimidating for experienced delegates and exhibitors!
With any business occasion, it helps to prepare your networking skills in advance. Once you’ve learned a few tricks, you’ll find the experience less of a chore and more of an insightful part of setting up a business.

Like any other skill, networking doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and is something we can all practise.

So, my first tip is going to be preparation. Be focused and have a real understanding of what you’re doing there. Look at the timetable and agenda. Highlight what you want to go to and don’t overwhelm yourself. Study the website and the show guide you’re sent in advance.Go in with a proactive attitude and a commitment to starting conversations. Have some icebreakers prepared beforehand, such as “What made you want to come to this conference?” or “Which sessions are you going to?”

Practise your “elevator pitch” – a summary of who you are, what business you are in and why you’re there. And importantly, what you can offer the person you’re talking to. While they’re reciprocating, think about who you could put them in touch with, what you could help them with, and any questions you could ask them to understand more about their business.

Remember your business cards. Failing that, try linking up on business networking sites fairly quickly. The LinkedIn app has a QR code facility where you simply tap your phone against a colleague’s and instantly link up. This will save you desperately trying to remember the name of someone you met only minutes ago.

Dedicate some time after the event to follow up with the contacts you made with a brief, friendly message reminding them that you met at the event and what your role is. Make it personal. If you’ve remembered to scribble something memorable about them on the back of their business card to include, that’s event better. Or send them a link to an article they would be interested in. Even in the cut and thrust of the business world, thoughtfulness goes a long way.

Remember that you are in the same boat as all the other delegates and exhibitors in the room, so my final piece of advice is to just go in with a friendly smile and a few conversation openers…soon you’ll have turned that feeling of overwhelm into a feeling of love for the networking experience!

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