June 2nd, 2018
Conferences and networking events are an opportunity to learn, share ideas and network. But for some people networking can bring on a case of the jitters. Speaking to people you don’t know. Worrying you’ll be out of your depth. And how do you start up a conversation with a stranger anyway?
As an introvert I’ve experienced all these things, but over the years I’ve pushed myself out of my comfort zone and have actually come to enjoy networking. My network has been completely invaluable to me over the years, and I certainly wouldn’t have been able to set up my business without it. And of course it helps that internal comms is one of the friendliest and supportive industries you could hope to find.
So, I’ve shared some of my top networking tips, along with insights from some of the best and brightest in our industry:
A lot of other people will be feeling the same way
Arriving at a big event can feel really lonely. What if everyone else arrives with friends or is confident enough to introduce themselves to new people? Not likely.
There’ll be plenty of people rocking up for the first time, feeling super nervous. You will not be alone, which means there will be a room full of people hoping someone will approach them and start a conversation. In fact, if you see someone with no one to talk to, make a point of going over to them.
And if you are arriving with friends and colleagues, be brave, separate and mingle. You’ll get a huge amount more out of the event.
Prepare some topics you want to chat about beforehand
Not to the extent that you sound like a robot, but conferences and networking is also about learning and sharing ideas, so what do you want to get out of it? Have a brainstorm beforehand and then chat to people you meet about those topics.
It’s also worth jotting down a few things you’ve been working on recently so you can draw on them when people ask you questions – when you’re nervous those things can disappear from your mind. Reread your list on the way in and you’ll be fully prepared.
Get involved on social media in the lead up
It’s much easier to approach people if you’ve already had a conversation on Twitter or LinkedIn. Follow the conference on Twitter and join in the chat. You could even ask if any IC pros from your industry will be there or people with expertise in specific areas such as change comms or measurement and arrange to meet up. That way you’ll recognise people when you arrive and you can pick up where you left off.
As internal communicators, we’re naturally curious so use it to your advantage. Everyone attending an IC conference will be interesting (they’re internal communicators, how could they not be?), so reframe the situation to one where you get to ask insightful questions and learn things about interesting people.
Networking is about listening as well as talking
People focus a lot on what to say to others when networking but remember it’s also about listening to the other person. You don’t have to do all the talking! And if you’re someone that loves to talk, remember not everyone finds it as easy, so make sure you ask them questions and fully listen to their answers.
Take some time out
Just because the event is all day, doesn’t mean you have to be ‘on’ all day. Take some time out and recharge and go out for some fresh air. Networking can be draining even if you are enjoying it, and there’s nothing wrong with taking five minutes to yourself.
It’s ok to not know things
The point of events like this is to learn. No one is going to judge you for not knowing something or for asking questions. And you probably have experiences, expertise and knowledge that’s unique to you that others will be interested in hearing. Internal communicators are a lovely bunch, and will no doubt be happy to continue conversations over email, social media or in person, in the weeks that follow, if you’re interested in picking someone’s brains a bit more.
Take a deep breath, uncross your arms, roll your shoulders back and smile. If your body language is open and welcoming, people will naturally gravitate towards you. And don’t forget to enjoy yourself!
IC events throughout the year are great opportunities to develop yourself and your career. Don’t let fear hold you back. And if you have a piece of advice I’ve not mentioned in this blog, comment below so others can benefit from your wisdom!
Here’s what some fellow internal communicators had to say…
👋🏾@helendeverell, I’ll see you at #TheBigYak next weekend. One of my top connection tips is asking about what book or podcast they recommend and why. This helps understand a bit about them without jumping into personal topics straight away. Hope this is helpful!
— Phoebe (@pheebkat) June 1, 2018
Why do you do what you do? You get some fascinating answers. 🙂
— Simon Monger, CIIC (@SimonMonger) June 1, 2018
I like to ask what brings people to the event. Its good to see if there’s a specific topic or purpose that attracted them. Also how their day is going, answers can reveal more reveal more personal detail which can help build a relationship
— InsideOut Comms (@CathrynKingIOC) June 1, 2018
I was at a women in business award event recently, one of only a few guys, and the simple “Hello, I’m Frank. What’s your name?” Followed by the what do you do, worked a treat. You then let the conversation flow. Definitely questions and listening and joining up answers.
— Frank :oD ias (@letmebefrnk) May 31, 2018
Sadly can’t make #TheBigYak but my favourite with a group is to ask everyone to reveal the first album they bought. Probably depends on the age range though! In a networking environment probably just ‘Hi I’m Emma’ with my biggest brightest smile!😊
— RALC Consulting (@ralcconsulting) May 31, 2018
I used to organise and attend networking events a long, long time ago when I worked for my local Chamber of Commerce. I’d always be so nervous I’d feel the need to talk and talk – usually nonsense! My tip would be to spend more time listening than talking!
— Caroline Roodhouse (@TheWordBird1) May 31, 2018
I hope you’ll accept my view as well (plus those of many others) highlighted below: https://t.co/6ZIdokv6Nh
As for the best, non-offending ice breakers, “what did you think of (presentation)” or “why is this (as in event) of interest to you?”
— Ella Minty (@EllaMinty) May 31, 2018
My ‘go to’ at an event is simply to ask someone what they think of it so far, or comment on something you found interesting at the last session. Instant conversation starter…
— David Wraith (@dave_wraith) May 31, 2018
Hi…..I think we follow each other on Twitter! #TheBigYak
— Martin Flegg (@martinflegg) May 31, 2018
Good question. If it’s a networking event, probably outcome-focused ‘what would you need to learn/who would you need to meet/what problem would you solve here to make this the best use of your breakfast/lunch/eve time possible?’ I often start meetings with something like that. 👍
— Rachel Thornton (@rachelthorntonA) May 31, 2018
To quote a famous NHS healthcare campaign saying “hello my name is…”’ is a pretty good way of breaking the ice – nice friendly way of trying to get to know others without the embarrassment of trying to clock where their name badge is (if they’ve got one!)
— 𝑀𝒾𝒸𝒽𝑒𝓁𝓁𝑒 𝐵𝒶𝒾𝓁𝓁𝒾𝑒 🦄 (@MmNotes) May 31, 2018
I’m fond of “What’s keeping you busy at the moment?” Everyone has an answer; we’re all #busybusyverybusy after all!
— Kate Jones FIIC (@how_IC_it) May 31, 2018
My tip is if you feel awkward remember almost everyone else in the room feels equally awkward
— Howard Krais (@howiejk) May 31, 2018
I always ask people how they’re finding the day and what they’re looking forward to (or have found most interesting if it’s later in the day)
— Fa Mafi (@famplified) June 1, 2018