As the saying goes, it’s not what you know, but who you know, which is why networking is so important. It’s about building relationships rather than making quick sales, so although you might not see an immediate result, that person you bump into at the buffet might just give you your next job
BEFORE THE EVENT
Like any other work objective, with networking you should know: what your purpose is; how you’re planning to achieve your goals; and what success will be measured by.
Is your aim to broaden your network of facilities managers? If so, set yourself a target number of FMs to speak to and keep conversations with anyone else to a minimum.
Is networking the way of finding your next CAFM provider? If it is, think about what questions you’re going to ask each one you meet and decide what advice to ask from others who have dealt with them.
Find out who else will be there
Often it will be possible to find out who else is registered for an event, which means you can have much more targeted conversations on the day
Larger conferences and exhibitions offer online meeting scheduling systems that you use to book one-to-ones in advance. Organisers of smaller get-togethers usually don’t mind telling you who else is on the delegate list. You might want to get in touch with the organiser a week before the event, explain who you’re hoping to meet and ask if they can point you in the right direction.
Prepare your intro
You’re going to have to introduce yourself several times, so think about exactly what you’re going to say.
Keep your elevator pitch to around a minute and consider what other people would be most interested in knowing about you. For instance, if you’re a facilities manager with a wide remit but you’re at a cleaning event, tailor your elevator pitch to focus more on cleaning than maintenance and catering.
Become part of the event
Delegates will always go up to people who have given a presentation, wanting to congratulate them on their talk or ask more about it, which makes speaking a great way to meet new people. If public speaking isn’t for you, another option is volunteering to help run an event. When you’re part of an event team you’re automatically in contact with a lot of visitors who want to network.
ON THE DAY
Approaching the first few people who arrive is much less intimidating than walking into a big, crowded room where everyone is already huddled in groups, so arrive as early as you can. (Although saying that, my experience of FM events is that you’ll never be left on your own for long before someone comes over and speaks to you!
Be bold in approaching groups
When you can’t arrive early, you might find yourself walking into the room, looking around at a huge mass of people and realising you know no-one. You think ‘who on earth can I speak to?’ or ‘what am I doing here? Should I turn around and leave?’ Daunting as it may seem, just go and join a group who are chatting. Believe me, you won’t look strange – everyone’s there for the same reason: to get to know new people. Wait for a natural break in the conversation and introduce yourself. They’ll probably be pleased to have a new person in the conversation.
If you find yourself in the awkward position where there is no break in the conversation and no easy way to introduce yourself, don’t feel you need to either stay standing like a lemon or silently slink away, there is a solution. Interrupt and say something like ‘Hi, so sorry to interrupt. Liam, I just spotted you’re from BIFM – I’d be really interested to have a quick chat with you after this about something I’m working on. Do you want to come and find me when you’re ready? Here’s my business card, just in case we don’t have time to speak tonight.’
Be sincere in helping others
When you see someone who looks like they don’t know who to go up to, catch their attention and call them over. If an individual wanders over to your group but struggles to introduce themselves, bring them into the conversation – tell them what you’ve just been chatting about and ask for their opinion. You’ll be sure to make a good impression.
In general, think about what you can offer others, not just what you can get from them. Introduce people you know to each other. Introduce people you’ve just met to each other. Listen to others’ challenges and see if you can help. If you don’t have the solution, connect them with someone else who might. By making the first move, you’ll be remembered for all the right reasons.
Make yourself known to the event organisers
The event organisers are really useful people to know, because they tend to know most people in the room. If you need help mixing, find the organiser and ask if they could introduce you to someone. Or stay chatting with them – they’ll have plenty of people coming up to them, so it can be a good way to network.
Ditching a conversation
The point will come when you’ve exhausted the conversation and it’s time to move on, but it feels too awkward to excuse yourself. Sound familiar? If so, here are a few lines you can use (which should, of course, all finish with a positive note, e.g. ‘it’s been lovely to talk to you, let’s connect on LinkedIn and hopefully see you again soon’).
- ‘There’s someone I’ve been meaning to say hello to, so I’m going to go over before they leave.’
- ‘I’m going to go and get another drink/sandwich.’
- ‘Right, well I’m going to continue mingling’ (it’s what networking events are for, they will understand!)
When just two of you are chatting it can be slightly more difficult. Chances are, the other person wants to move on, too, but doesn’t want to offend you. Make it easy for them by politely saying ‘I really don’t want to take up all of your time, so I will let you carry on mingling’. Be firm about it and close with, ‘it was really great to meet you, and if I don’t see you again later, hopefully see you at the next one’. Alternatively, you could offer to bring them with you, e.g. ‘I’m going to go and introduce myself to the event organisers – do you want to come with me?’
AFTER THE EVENT
Follow up the next day
Add your new contacts on LinkedIn and follow up with a short message, e.g. ‘Hi Natasha, it was great to meet you at the WIFM event last night. Hopefully see you at the next one.’ Even better, send them something useful, maybe an article that follows up on something you are talking about. Also make a note on the back of their business card or in your CRM about anything that could be useful to remember about them for conversations in the future.
If you’re on Twitter, tweet something about the event and tag the organisers or anyone you met. For example, ‘Great @BIFM_WIFM networking event last night, thanks @SoAndSo for the invite!’, or ‘Great to meet you at the YMF event @SoAndSo, hopefully see you at the next one!’. You’ll expand your digital network at the same time as your physical one.
Make it a habit
It might sound obvious, but the more networking events you go to, the easier it becomes. Each time you re-meet someone, your bond will become a little bit stronger. The good news for us is there are so many networking opportunities throughout the year in FM – WIFM, Young Managers’ Forum, Facilities Show to name but a few. So I’ll hopefully see you at one soon!