rriving alone, only to be greeted by a room of strangers who’ve gathered in cliques sounds like a nightmare high-school scenario. But whilst jocks and cheerleaders may be a thing of the past, networking is a necessary aspect of your professional life and neglecting the weekly opportunity to expand your book of contacts could make or break your career. Although the appeal of mingling with strangers and waxing lyrical about your professional conquests isn’t always appealing after a 10-12-hour day, a 2013 study of 6,000 executives at 3,000 companies in the US and Europe founds that those with 50% more professional contacts had an average salary increase of 3.5%, sometimes totaling up to $15,000 or more than their colleagues who didn’t socialise. Evidently, money may talk, but it pays even more to network.
The art of networking is all in the balance; equal parts confidence, motive and communication. Striking the balance between taking a genuine interest in a person and being able to offer them something in return is a delicate process. Although not every business relationship we have comes to fruition, like the social circles we flittered between as teenagers, nothing bad can come of great people knowing your name. By mastering the art of networking, one can conquer both the fear of speaking to strangers and the art of thinking strategically. If you can instantly analyse how you can help an individual and what they could offer you, all from a simple introduction, the unfolding journey of your career could quickly become one filled with opportunities.
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Do Your Research
Preparation is key. Researching the hosting company and any speakers makes for a great ice-breaker in the inevitable awkward silences. “From CEO dinners to local tech events, investor cocktail parties and monthly start-up volleyball”, Carol Leaman used to attend everything she could in her early networking days. But the need to find a balance between the two emerged early on; it dawned on her that prior preparation enabled her to have a more strategic way of meeting people that could benefit her and she could in turn, help out. Using research as a filter, she now encourages younger professionals to “consciously think about what the event is going to get you and whether or not it’s worth it for you to be there.” Preparation can go as far as drafting questions for those you look up or pin-pointing aspects of your business you’d like feedback on. This way, you can accurately convey your query whilst grappling with the adrenalin of talking to new people.
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Leave the Comfort Zone
Networking is potentially the definition of leaving your comfort zone. According to Alan Henry at Lifehacker.com, the science of striking out boils down to a combination of adrenalin and anxiety. But with that also comes the jumping-in-blind mentality. Positivity is the secret weapon; by exuding confidence and joining the masses in ‘faking it’, your capability and appeal as a business person is instantly increased. Mel Robbins makes an excellent point with her 5 Second Rule theory; with every window of opportunity we’re presented with in life, we have on average 5 seconds to react. If we don’t the moment and opportunity is lost forever. Take the gamble and embrace the fear; the moment you see someone of interest or your eyes meet, be ready to smile, stick out your hand and make an introduction within 5 seconds to conquer the first surge of adrenaline. Although cliques can form easily at the beginning of an event (habits of the equally uncomfortable), channeling the positive vibes can make a world of a difference to the later-comer who has no one to talk to, finding you someone to circulate the crowd with.
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Wear Your Conversation Starter
Setting yourself up as an approachable person begins with how you look. Drawing on research of the networking model – a room full of strangers – “most people are automatically sizing up the crowd” says Dr Richard Smith PhD editor of ‘Envy: Theory and Research’, “who's smarter, who's tougher, who's more beautiful” so it never hurts to keep up appearances. Bold accessories such as House of Demu’s gemstone rings or the Bibelot necklace by Helou Designs are the perfect centre-piece to a sharp and polished suit. For maximum impact, choosing a simply cut but eye-catching dress ensures that you stand out to everyone in the room and can start conversations over a potential mutual interest. Cecily’s Gina dress in red or Emile Vidal Carr’s blue Emilia dress weighs up the balance between bright, punchy shades with a clean and sophisticated cut. Alternatively, for just a dash of colour, Madderson London’s Audrey dress peppers a black base with pink and grey, keeping the aesthetic minimal and sleek.
Shop the look: Gina Dress by Cecily | Topaz Ring Selection by House of Demu | Emilia Dress by Emile Vidal Carr | Grace scarf in Sky Blue by Leona Lengyel | Audrey Dress by Madderson London | Pearl bracelet by ORA
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It’s inevitable that someone, colleague or otherwise, will limpet on to you in their own fear of speaking to others. Once you’ve shaken them off, it’s important to target two or three people who can be of real value. Circulate, but set yourself a goal of how many people you realistically would like to engage with. Also avoid the temptation of tunnel vision in aiming just for those you have researched as chatting to the ‘wild cards’ of the crowd can be unexpectedly useful. “Deliberately sit next to someone you don’t know during a talk or a meal that takes place during the event” says Deborah L. Jacobs and take in account your aim in chatting with a person you don’t know. By aiming for a select few people, you can pursue your set goals in obtaining advice but with those you don’t, it’s worth building something for a project later down the line.
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The follow-up lays foundations for potential future partnerships. Assuming you’ve covered the basics and made the flirtation official by exchanging cards, maintaining contact is important; you are literally chasing this person for a professional date. “Reaching out one time after meeting them is not enough. It generally takes seven or eight touches before someone decides that they are ready to engage you” says Carrie Green of Business-Knowhow; “continue to give information of value and interest to them” to maintain the connection. Emailing is the professional woman’s text as calling is too desperate, not to mention invasive. Simply picking up where the conversation left off is a good start, but avoid making a direct connection with work instantly – you need to date for a while before you go metaphorical ring-shopping.
Words by Emma Corr