Networking can be daunting, especially within traditional sectors like the jewellery industry.
When you’re new, walking into a trade event full of strangers can be an unnerving experience — even more so when it appears that everyone seems to know everyone else. It’s very easy, in fact, to feel out of one’s depths and alone in a sea of faces.
Networking does not need to be painful though. People are people and most (though admittedly not all) won’t go out of their way to be mean to you. And for every cold shoulder, there are 1,000 warm welcomes.
As part of a wider leadership programme I run networking training workshops for university graduates who are struggling to find work. The first thing I share with these young delegates is a sentiment that changed how I viewed networking at a very early age.
I view networking as simply relationship-building.
And like any relationship, some last for a lifetime. Others only for one night.
As well as raising a few laughs (and sometimes gasps), it positions networking as something other than an awkward, forced, commercial interaction. It’s about people. And some people you will gel with. Others you will not.
We cover a lot in a short period of time including the utilisation of social networks for business (including my LinkedIn ‘stalking’ masterclass), elevator pitches (what works and what just sounds weird!), researching the right networks and finding your tribe, knowing when to leave a network, and the importance of the follow-up (something so many people still do not do).
We also cover my 4C’s of networking; four key words designed to provide a process that can be applied to any networking situation, which should focus the mind and make networking that little bit easier. These are:
We all communicate all of the time, and human beings are experts at receiving these communications and processing them at lightning speed. Most of this processing is handled at a sub-conscious level and will be tempered by our previous experiences, beliefs and bias. And most of the communication we are processing is non-verbal — more than 90% in fact is made up of body language and tone of voice.
Just as you’re making instant judgements on new people that you meet, they are doing the same. So, it’s worth thinking about how you might be coming across to others, as well as perhaps studying and modelling people who you think come across as confident and calm in certain key situations. What do they do? What’s their posture like? What is their body saying to you?
When connection is instantaneous, it’s truly a beautiful thing. Whether it’s a personal or commercial relationship, the metaphorical sparks fly when you meet a kindred spirit who you feel like you’ve known all your life.
It is also possible to fake it though, with ‘tricks’ that can be deployed to develop deeper connections.
Mirroring is one such trick, reflecting back body language and movements to your counterpart shortly after they make such a move. So, if they cross their leg or fold their arms, you do the same. When we have natural rapport with someone, we tend to do this naturally, so it’s a useful tip to remember. Though use it with care, if employed too enthusiastically, it can get a little creepy.
Having a common interest or subject is a great way to deepen the connection. Often, people get anxious about what they will say, but not every conversation you have during a networking session needs to be about work. In fact, you might find talking about your interests, family or hobbies serve to create a far better connection than discussing gold prices or the challenging high street trading conditions.
And if all else fails, you can always drop the ‘Brexit’ bomb. Everyone has one thing in common when it comes to this issue… We’re all tired of talking about it yet, when mentioned, we don’t seem to be able to hold back.
This is the final and most important element for me and it’s one I reinforce during my training.
Collaboration, in my opinion, should be at the heart of any transactional relationship. So yes, when I am at an industry event I am looking for potential clients, but that’s not my entire criteria. I am looking for clients where I feel I can really add value, where my support is more than just copy writing and PR.
Where I can I work closely with the marketing and comms teams and provide the benefit of my experience, as well as my insights as an external consultant and also someone who works outside of the trade too.
Having been a client for a good portion of my working life, there is nothing worse than someone trying to sell to you with no handle on the features and benefits for you, the so-called prospect. If there is no collaboration, for me there’s no point.
It’s a relationship destined to fail in the end.
PEOPLE BUY FROM PEOPLE…
The biggest takeaway from most of my delegates seems to the realisation that, ultimately… people are people.
And most people, in most industries (especially jewellery!), are nice people who might even be as nervous as you!
So, it’s worth taking the plunge and just saying hello.
Get a conversation started and remember, you’re not for everyone, and everyone is not for you.
And that’s fine. There’s plenty more fish in the networking sea.