1. Come with a game plan. “You’ll never have a chance to speak to everyone so come with a clear list of the people you’d like to speak to. If Afua and I are going to a conference, we’ll come up with a target list and prioritise the people who we MUST connect with vs. people that it would be nice to chat to. We always research a few points on the person’s background, to make it easier to strike up conversation. And, it’s important to be clear (if possible) on why you’d like to talk to someone. It helps you steer the conversation in the right way and tailor your pitch appropriately.”
2. Hang out by the food table. “If you don’t feel comfortable introducing yourself to people, try hanging out by the food table. Food is always a great conversation starter. If you see someone picking up that lovely mini-cupcake you just tried, go up to them and say: “Those cupcakes are absolutely amazing. You should definitely try one. Oh... I’m Yasmin by the way. Nice to meet you. What’s your name?” And voila! You’ve struck up a conversation in a non-awkward and relaxed manner.
3. Ask questions. “Many people think that networking is all about trying to impress people with your amazing accomplishment. But it’s just as important to listen to other people and try to learn more about them. Once, I was at a conference an struck up a conversation with a guy who mainly worked in Europe, so there wasn’t that much in common with SLA. But after chatting for a few minutes, he mentioned that his wife sat on the board of an organisation that we’d desperately been trying to reach out to! Now you see if I’d spent the whole time blabbing to him about myself, I may never have found out about this awesome connection.”
"Many people think that networking is all about trying to impress people with your amazing accomplishment. But it’s just as important to listen to others..."
4. Go for number 2. “Here’s a scene I see at networking events all the time: an important person arrives and everyone swarms to them. That important person is overwhelmed, a little uncomfortable and frankly doesn’t see individuals, but rather a mass of overly eager faces. When this happens DO NOT join them. This is a little trick I’ve learnt: Look around for the people that this person arrived with. And instead, target that person. Why you ask? Because that person is waaaaay more accessible than the important man or woman, and they may be able to secure a meeting with them in the future. Plus, they may be able to teach you a thing or two – after all, smart, successful people tend to surround themselves with other smart, successful people.”
5. Master the art of the follow-up. “It’s important to get people’s business cards, but it’s even more important to follow-up afterwards. A few days after an event, send a brief follow-up email to everyone you met. Make sure you have a clear subject line like “Follow up from XYZ Conference” so they don’t assume you’re sending spam. And, as they probably met a bunch of people at the event, include subtle hints that will jog their memory, like “It was so lovely to have the opportunity to talk to you about SLA, the organization that I co-founded that empowers African female entrepreneurs.” And, don’t be aggressive if they don’t respond. Everyone’s busy, so be persistent yet respectful.”
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