What impression are you creating when you network?

Planning on attending a networking event in the next few days? Make sure you read our tips on when to network, when definitely not to network and how to make the networking session you attend really worth your while.

Last week I went to a breakfast networking event.  I was introduced to a lawyer who was clearly a bit worse for wear.  Whilst they’d clearly had a great day at Ascot’s Ladies Day the day before, they’d made the strange decision to come to a networking session early the following day.  With a hangover obvious for all to see, it did make me wonder why they’d bothered.

Networking events are all about first impressions.  I’m not convinced anyone at my networking event last week would feel confident instructing that lawyer to handle their legal affairs… especially not given their grey/green complexion, obvious headache, bloodshot eyes, abruptness and the smell of alcohol on their breath.

Be on top form – or don’t go

So the first fundamental is, if you’re feeling under the weather or under par in any way, then definitely pass a networking opportunity by.  Send in your apologies and stay away until the next time.  If you do go and you’re feeling rough, you risk creating more harm than good.  Few of us can deliver an Oscar-winning performance when we’re feeling ill or stressed and yet at a networking event your professional profile and reputation is under the spotlight.

That’s why you should give yourself the best chance possible to impress people.  It’s rare to be given a second chance when forging a relationship with someone new.  They will have sized you up straight away and formed an opinion from their first impressions of you.  So wait to feel 100% before going to a networking event and prepare for it 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

If you’re down to attend a breakfast networking session  then the night before try and avoid alcohol, strong smelling food (especially garlic or curry) and get a good night’s sleep (preferably with an early night).  Get everything you need for the session ready before you go to bed, so you don’t have a mad panic in the morning.  It sounds obvious I know, but it’s incredible how many people don’t do this.

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 avoid you).  Make sure you arrive on time, are calm and can get a good spot within the room.  Facing the entrance is ideal, as you can keep an eye on who is arriving.

10 tips to help create positive first impressions when networking

  1. Dress appropriately for the event and wear comfortable shoes if it’s one which involves a lot of standing around.  If you’re in pain or uncomfortable, it will be visible to those meeting you.  If you’re unsure what the dress-code is then ask the organisers.  If you’re going to be outside, factor in the weather forecast when deciding your attire.
  2. Have a jacket with a pocket or a small handbag with a shoulder strap that can carry your business card holder, a pen and a small notebook to jot down any follow up points that come out of your discussions.
  3. 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, so avoid having other things to carry in your hands that will get in the way.
  4. 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 shake hands your badge doesn’t become obscured and people can read your name to imprint in their mind who you are.
  5. Think about how you introduce yourself.  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 then your ‘elevator’ pitch will be a lot more memorable and interesting.
  6. Be warm and welcoming and approach people who are on their own.  Make sure your handshake is neither too weak, nor too strong.  Practice with a friend, colleague or member of your family to see how yours feels.
  7. 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.
  8. Spend more time asking people about what they do and show interest in what they’re saying, rather than trying to speak and dominate the conversation all the time.
  9. If there’s an individual you think could be good in terms of business, 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.
  10. 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 money and time on networking events and it’s a shame that often it all goes to waste. 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 and please don’t be like the lawyer I met last week.

And don’t forget to follow up the contacts you make – see the Women Unlimited article How To Follow Up Networking Events (http://www.springmedia.co.uk/wuwbu/how-to-follow-up-networking-events/). Also check out our Moxie Club events if you are looking for something a little bit different.

Julie Hall

Business Mentor & founder of Women Unlimited

Julie is the founder of Women Unlimited and a business mentor to women who know they are ready to step into their leadership. She works closely with them to help them remove the blocks that hold them back and achieve their business goals. Clarity, Focus, Strategy, Mindset and Marketing.

Be the change that you want to see. Step into your leadership.