Meet our Expert
Debbie is the Co-Founder and Director of the The I Am Group, set up in 2012 to bring together those working in charities, social enterprises and not-for-profits to learn, share knowledge, make meaningful connections and find jobs! She has an extensive career in the events and marketing industry spanning over two decades, within the charity, private and agency sectors.
“Everyone always talks about the importance of professional networking. As a fundraiser, do you have any tips on how to network effectively at events?”
What do we mean by networking?
So what do we really mean by networking and why should we bother? For many people the connotations of the word networking are an uncomfortable experience, culminating in handing out a few business cards to a room full of strangers, making disengaged small talk or a frightening experience where you stand in a room knowing no one and worry about breaking in on a conversation? So let’s define what we mean here: Networking is what we do every day of our lives when we communicate with another person; in the context of social media, networking takes place online through media such as LinkedIn or Facebook, but in the context of live events, this is about having a conversation in a face-to-face situation.
Benefits of face-to-face networking
Before we talk about how to network effectively at events, it’s worth highlighting some of the unique benefits a face-to-face networking event can offer over other marketing channels – whether it’s a fundraising event to generate income and importantly engage potential donors over a life time, or using social marketing to engage potential beneficiaries in a health campaign or to motivate employees via a team building event or conference, it’s an opportunity to truly engage if it’s done well and a great way to complement social media such as LinkedIn.
As well as general opportunities, face-to-face events give us:
· ‘true permission marketing’ – everyone attending an event has opted to be there and therefore, should be open to making new connections
· a great way of building loyalty
· a platform to test an idea or product and get immediate feedback
· the opportunity to use all five senses to get the message across
How to network in ten easy steps:
1. Be prepared – think what you want to get out of a situation, event or relationship before you are in a face-to-face meeting, that way you’ll be focused and able to focus quickly on useful contacts. Remember it’s not about handing out as many business cards as possible to the first person that comes along and may be about meeting one or two useful contacts at a networking event and getting a follow up meeting.
2. Be generous – always start by offering something to someone you meet at a networking event. For instance, can you help introduce a new contact, offer some advice on a related piece of work, or agree to help out in some way? The golden rule of networking is always to offer your support before asking for something for yourself.
3. Elevator pitch – practise, practise, practise your elevator pitch. I’m sure most of us are familiar with the concept of an elevator pitch but just to be clear, you need to be able to communicate who you are and what you do in thirty seconds – sixty seconds is too long! Your elevator pitch needs to be concise and focused and give the best possible impression of who you are and what you do in language that is easy to understand and remember.
4. Be memorable – this could be through the way you dress, the tie you wear or how you accessorise your outfit – or it could be through developing a repertoire of interesting or unusual anecdotes which can be used in both professional and personal situations.
5. Business cards – make sure you have these (and a pen) to hand. Although networking events aren’t about handing out business cards randomly, you do need to be prepared to capture interest and follow up quickly.
6. Be yourself – real networking is about being the best version of you! The old cliché that ‘people buy people’ really does work when you are at ease and come across as genuine. Sincerity will always shine through and is a quality people trust whether in a professional or personal situation.
7. Be curious – learn how to build rapport and establish something you have in common quickly. Ask the right questions and you’ll find people light up when they’re talking about something they love or are passionate about, be it one of their professional achievements or places they like to travel. It really doesn’t matter what the topic is, once we start connecting with people, we usually discover we have lots in common, which will always make picking up the phone for a serious conversation later on much easier. A note of caution… find the right balance between curiosity and coming across as downright nosy!
8. Finding the right networking event – a Google search will bring up a whole host of networking events, so do your research. Many trade associations and professional bodies will also host a variety of events on specific themes. It could be a dedicated networking event you’re after or a social activity or interest which may attract the types of people you’re looking to meet.
9. Cover the ground – networking events are about making connections – some of whom may be immediately beneficial to you and others may come back to you in months or years to come. Work the room and don’t get stuck: have a good exit strategy at the ready….
10. Follow up is key – agree how you’re going to follow up with everyone you meet at an event – i.e. introduction to a useful contact, sharing a report or relevant piece of information, fixing a meeting date, or connecting on LinkedIn – and do it immediately. Time is of the essence if you want to capitalise on goodwill and energy, so create a strategy to stay in touch. You never know when a connection made at an event will come back to you – it may be immediately or it could be months or even years in the future. The important thing is to stay in touch and this is where social media such as LinkedIn can really complement live events.
Debbie Hockham is Director and Co-Founder of I Am Networking, which provides networking events for charity sector professionals www.iamenterprises.co.uk.