With some preparation, you won’t dread the networking sessions at events
Do you dread the networking part of a conference or spend the breaks at events on your mobile phone hoping that you won’t have to speak to someone?
Networking can fill people with dread. The thought of having to make polite conversation with people you don’t know can make confident clinicians go to pieces.
But, with a bit of preparation, the whole thing can be a lot less daunting.
Remember that the event that you are going to is likely to be attended by people with a similar background or discipline. Check if colleagues you know are going.
Tips for confident networking
● Ensure you prepare for the event in advance
● Look for people in the room who you have something in common with
● Don’t gravitate to people you know or work with
● Approach people with confidence
● Listen and encourage conversation by asking questions
● Take people’s business cards and follow up any promises
Arriving with someone you know is easier but, if you go alone, don’t worry. If you do go with someone else, split up after a while. A group of people who know each other chatting away is off-putting to other attendees.
If the delegate list is available in advance, scan it to spot people with similar backgrounds or jobs. Is there someone you used to work with or who works in an organisation where you have worked? This is important if you are attending a dinner and find yourself sat next to someone for a couple of hours.
Once you receive your invitation, ask your host who else will be on the table and where they will sit. The internet is a wonderful tool for researching someone’s career, especially sites liked LinkedIn - check you are looking at the right person.
If the event is a drinks reception, a room of 100 people you don’t know can be a bit off-putting, so planning is essential.
Try and read a bit of news before you get there. Knowing what has happened in the world that day is a useful icebreaker.
Look for people who are standing by themselves. They probably feel like you do. Approach confidently, with a smile and hold your glass in your left hand so that you can shake hands without having to fumble and juggle your glass. A comment about what someone is wearing, perhaps a nice tie or shoes, works well, as does: “I see you work at xxx hospital.”
Once you have begun the conversation, listen. Checking your watch or looking over someone’s shoulder will not make them interact.
Use words like “why” and “how” rather than “what”. They encourage the person to ask you questions back. After spending time with someone, move on - you have to talk to more than one person.
Finally, follow up any promises. Take people’s business cards and, if you promised to do something, write a note on this.
If you don’t have business cards, use your phone to email yourself a reminder, or write a note on a piece of paper.
Andrew Fisher is team leader in communications at NHS Employers. He has worked in communications at Connecting for Health, the Environment Agency and the Consumers’ Association