Networking events provide great opportunities for people to develop professional and business relationships with influencers, peers and mentors. Professional development events are a staple on Africa business scene, on the continent and in the Diaspora, and provide a diverse number of attendees an opportunity to share ideas as well as improve their leadership and professional skills.
For many, the idea of venturing out into a room full of perfect strangers induces reactions similar to those you may feel right before going in for that one job interview you have been waiting what seemed like eternity for: nervous shakes and sweaty palms.
It doesn’t have to be this stressful and awkward. With some careful planning, over time, networking events will gradually become one of the many things in your life that you look forward to. Here are some key things to consider.
Know your event
There are several things to consider when thinking about the networking options available to you; identify what your main objective is and choose accordingly. If you are looking for a new job, new clients or new partners, find out where the decision makers will be and mark your calendar.
Placing a high value on how you spend your time is important because your attitude almost immediately aligns with your objective. You will be going to your event, determined and focused, which will help boost your confidence and keep the nerves away.
There is a strength that comes with knowing and conveying your personal brand; as you mix and mingle, you will be able to effectively and articulately communicate who you are and what you are about, which helps to attract the right type of people to you.
Developing one’s personal brand takes time and may involve everything from the way you walk into a room to the way to communicate your story. In many cases, decision makers make their decisions to take their relationships with you a step further solely on their initial impression of you.
If you haven’t given much thought to this idea, reflect on experiences that describe how life decisions have made you the person you are in that moment. Everything else will follow.
Bring a card or two
As an event attendee, you should always have a business card readily available to hand out to your contacts at networking events. And no, you don’t have to have an office job to own a card. If you are a student, consider the option of creating a card that bears your name, contact information and status. The key is to create a clean, professional card that conveys basic information about you and how you can be reached if you are a person of interest.
Follow the appropriate dress code
There is nothing more unnerving than showing up at an event overdressed or underdressed. If the event is more laid back, plan to wear something that is casual but respectful of the environment and audience. If the event calls for business casual, it is appropriate to wear something a little bit more conservative, but allows for a feature or signature piece that highlights your individuality. When in doubt, there is nothing wrong with walking into a professional event with a business suit on.
Yes, your outfit may get you stares as you work the room but your ability to engage an individual or a group of individuals will get a meeting with you on someone’s calendar asap. Popular social cues like making eye contact, leaning in during a conversation and a offering firm handshake are not overrated at networking events. People respond to how they feel around you so don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through. At the end of the day, a reflection of poise and confidence in who you are will say a whole lot more about you and set you apart.