A partner in a large law firm in London once said to me. “When I go to one of these events, I go with the aim of meeting three new people and then I go to the bar.”
The Christmas networking season is upon us once more. The company’s paying. Free drinks. Great! You’ve had a long day and you’re off to an event that is relevant enough to sign up to and interesting enough not to pull out of at the last minute.
You walk in, get a drink off the tray, see a couple of friends chatting and make a bee-line for them. And, apart from listening to the speaker, that’s you settled for the evening. Fun – yes! Value for your organisation – doubtful, even if the speaker was just about OK.
So, how can you have a good time and also derive business value from the evening? Answer: have a goal, which is exactly what that partner did.
But it’s difficult going up to people you don’t know and then getting away from them when you want to.” Unfortunately, it is the combination of these two apparently stiff obstacles that stop many people trying at all.
With this in mind, to help you achieve your goal and make the most of the networking season, here are some top tips for getting in and getting out – to breaking in and escaping. When you have these, you’re using the Master Key.
- Single people look like low hanging fruit. Beware though – there may be a very good reason why they’re on their own. Before going here, have a worked up escape plan.
- Pairs. Look at their body language before you approach. If they’re square on to each other, leave well alone. If on the other hand they’re open – making up two sides of a triangle, that is an invitation to join them.
- Groups. This is your best option for meeting several people. So how do you break in?
- Work around them until you are on the eye line of the person leading the conversation.
- Catch their eye, smile and move forwards towards them. Now you must know precisely what you are going to say. It is no good having to think it up on the spot. For me, it is simply, “Hi, may I join you?” To this day, nobody has ever said‘No’!
- If conversation stalls when you join, have something ready to talk about, e.g. the speaker, the venue etc.
How do you escape in a way that you are comfortable with and that doesn’t leave the other person feeling discarded? You must have your escape lines ready and again, you must be comfortable with them. For me, it will usually be something like this:
- Validate the conversation. “(Name), I’ve really enjoyed speaking to you.” If you haven’t, don’t say you have! Perhaps something along the lines of “Thank you for your time this evening.”
- Say what you intend to do. “I want to speak to a couple of other people so I’m going to make a move”.
- Exchange cards if you’re interested in keeping in touch.
- Say something as you leave. “I hope you enjoy the rest of this evening.” Don’t promise to see them later if you do not intend to and don’t say you have to leave the event and then be caught speaking to someone else later!
You must say everything with body language that reinforces your message rather than undermines it. Use good eye contact and short sentences. Waffling and over explaining will just show that you’re uncomfortable. If you behave as confident and caring (eye contact and not saying too much), you will be seen as confident and caring, which will make it much easier for both of you to part.
So, what is the Master Key? It is HONESTY. Saying exactly what you will do rather than using the old clichés is the best way for both you and the other person. The secret lies in knowing what you are going to do and what you are going to say. Then all you have to do is get out there and do it.