How to prepare for & build Rapport when Networking

REMEMBER, You can network anywhere, with anyone! 

networking can happen anywhereB2B networking is becoming a vital part of growing your business, especially among start up’s and small businesses. But it doesn’t stop there, events hosted by medium to large businesses also act as a networking platform where companies are able to showcase and discuss what they really do on a face to face platform. Collaboration between business owners who attend networking events has been shown to grow local partnerships and expand company reach within the local community. In the short time, the Ealing Connect networking group in West London has been running , numerous attendees have fed back that they have used each other to grow their businesses, whether it is a B2C referral, a new logo design, business coaching or goal setting. People sell people and this is what is happening during the networking events occurring today.

When looking for organisations to join to help you build your relationships and connections, choose groups where you can make a contribution and will be interested in what is going on. Communicating your message is a means of gaining credibility that is best accomplished through substance, not style. Listening and asking questions helps you build rapport and trust. Practice your communications until you feel confident that your message will come across as genuine and unscripted.

networking group

Here are the 8 points you should be aware of and be taking into any Networking environment:

  • Do a little research:

     If you receive a list of who will be attending, spend time looking at what those people do and work out who you would like to talk to and don’t knock back people when they approach you, you never know who they know.

  • Be prepared to assess the room:

    When you arrive, spend a short time looking around the room, you can almost immediately tell by the atmosphere what type of networking its going to be, are there already people deep in conversation or are people standing nervously around the edges.

  • Remember: 

    Most of us can’t just show up at an event, stand around, and expect people to come up and talk to us. Be proactive and start conversations with others. This does not mean you have to be the centre of attention and the life of the party. Simply be yourself and the rest will fall into place.

  • Keep your body language open – Don’t cross your arms, it puts people off.

    When you are networking you have to work consciously to send out open and welcoming ‘messages’ to others. So don’t cross your arms if you want to send out positive vibes to other people! Instead, if you don’t know what to do with your arms try holding some business cards, brochures or leaflets. It gives your hands something to do! 

  • Smile and nod as people are talking to you – it shows you are listening.  

    Smiling and nodding are a key part of your listening skills and part of the ‘active listening’ skillset. It’s not enough to just listen to other people. You have to show them you are listening. Particularly if there are distractions around you or you are in a noisy environment.  Show them by actively nodding and smiling. In fact, you could take this a stage further by asking relevant questions that relate to what they’ve just said, but it all starts with reassuring them that you are interested.

  • Use eye contact to show you are interested – people will be drawn to you. 

    Never, ever let your eyes give away that you are getting bored or losing interest! The minute you allow your eyes to wander you will reveal what you are thinking about (getting another coffee maybe, speaking to someone else, getting something to eat….)! So if you want to build a great connection with someone else, however difficult it is, you must work hard to use regular eye contact (not staring!). Practice this if you can with a friend or work colleague and you will soon see the difference it makes to the relationships you are building.

  • Describe what you do in terms of how other clients have benefited from your products or services. 

    At some point, it will be your turn to talk. Clever networkers will turn the conversation away from themselves and towards the other person. When you are asked the inevitable question ‘what do you do?’ – think about the best way to quickly illustrate what you are all about. I suggest you introduce your products or services by describing the benefits other customers/clients are receiving. This quickly provides validation and persuasive psychology proves that people are more likely to ‘follow the crowd’ than be the first. Talking about your current clients helps to build the illusion that you are capable and successful. Who wants to buy from someone who is failing to convince other clients to buy?

  • Avoid using your job description (eg. ‘I am a training consultant’) as a way of describing what you do – it closes off conversations

    It is so easy to get lazy with your networking and revert to introducing yourself by using your job title or job description. Eg ‘I’m an accountant’ or ‘I’m a business consultant’. Where can this conversation go now? Instead follow the tips  above to highlight the benefits of your product or service, give examples of case studies, or be ready to describe your USP (unique selling proposition). 

Practical Exercise (If you fancy it)

If you have a work partner, practice taking it in turns to talk to each other and actively listen. If you like, try this little exercise and then evaluate how the passive and non-passive listening behaviour made you feel.

networking tips

This short 1-minute exercise requires 2 people to take part: With the person sitting next to you, one person speaks to the other about something they love or are passionate about for the first 30 seconds and the other person reacts like they are interested and interacts appropriately. (i.e nodding, maintaining eye contact etc) and then for the second 30 seconds, the speaking person continues talking but the other person switches off, seem disinterested (i.e avoids eye contact, fiddles with their phone etc)

Now spend a few minutes discussing with each other how it made you feel as the speaker and as the listener.  Please feel free to leave a comment once you’ve tried the exercise or if you have found this article useful.

How to build rapport when networking was written by
Anita Wong 
Founder of Ealing Connect Networking
Facebook/Twitter/Instagram: @ealingconnect

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