I organise a lot of events, and I also attend a lot of events so I get to see a lot of networking take place and I can tell you straight away, most people find networking scary. That is why people avoid it at all costs, they either don’t go to events at all, or they go with other colleagues so that they don’t have to talk to someone new. These two scenarios mean that people miss out on all the fantastic benefits that come with networking. As Jennifer Corcoran wrote in ‘Are you a Networked PA?’ ‘Networking is ultimately about sharing your goals with others and supporting them as they try to achieve theirs. To be successful, you need to be credible and authentic. Meeting new people is a great opportunity to exchange ideas and expand your network.’ If you get networking right, the rewards can be huge, particularly for Assistants. A strong network is invaluable and can help you succeed in every aspect of your role. So, based on some personal experience and years of networking behind me, here are my tips on how to network at any PA event.
How to network at any PA event.
Treat the event like a job interview, but remember you can have fun too! Here are a few tips from Tate Recruitment on how to network when thinking about moving into a new role.
If you’re networking to develop your career in some way, treating an event like a job interview will ensure you get the simple things right:
- Dress smartly and professionally – your future employer may be in the room, and you’ll feel more confident.
- Smile as much as possible, and conduct yourself in a friendly and open manner – allow people to approach you.
- Make and maintain eye contact.
- Try to be clear and concise in what you say and avoid repeating yourself.
For more tips, check out their guide to networking.
Biting the bullet
I used to find walking into a room full of strangers terrifying, and the thought of striking up a conversation with them seemed impossible. The truth is, a lot of people feel the same way, and most people are relieved when you introduce yourself to save them from having to do it themselves! A great way to break into the conversation is by saying “Do you mind if I join you?” which is very simple and the majority of the time people will be very welcoming.
Faye Kilgour is an excellent example of someone who has achieved a lot through networking:
For me as a result of putting myself out there and attending all the events I can, I have not only met some fantastic people but have identified two mentors, joined the Board of a women’s networking group, found speakers for events and sought invaluable advice about a number of training courses that Google just would not have been able to provide.
Read more of her story about networking here.
Have some objectives for the Event
When I network I always find it useful to think about what I want to achieve by going to the event and I set myself some objectives. The goals can be straightforward, something like ‘I have to hand out ten business cards at this exhibition’ or ‘I have to speak to three new people’, or, it could be more structured and business specific ‘I have to find two new suppliers for my business that help me with this specific problem’. Having some objectives is useful because it gives you a sense of purpose at the event, it gives you something to talk to other delegates about, and you come away with some ROI and justification for being there.
Also, make sure you have some objectives around learning something new! To ensure you come away with some new initiatives the best approach is to convert what you have heard during the day into a tangible action that you can take away with you and put into practice in your own working life. After the event review your notes and write down one step or critical takeaway from each session that you can integrate into your job.
Use Social Media to make connections
Face to face networking is where your social media profile comes in handy because you can let your followers on Twitter, LinkedIn or a Facebook Group know that you are going to a networking event and ask to meet anyone also attending. This is a great way to meet people in person, and you already know you will have a shared interest, which make it easier to chat.
When it gets to the point where you have to speak to other people be prepared! Some people I’ve met over the years are fabulous at networking and find it very easy and normal. I’m not one of those people, unfortunately, so I come prepared! I have a list of networking questions in my head that I have now memorised and can whip out in case there is a lull in conversation… The questions aren’t exactly on the level of Oprah Winfrey, but they get me by! You can download our 20 great networking questions you can ask at any Assistant event.
If you find you are struggling to get anything back from this person, move on. Life is way too short to struggle making conversation with someone that isn’t interested! Networking can be challenging, but there is also so much you can get out of it, so I do recommend that you talk to a few people you’ve not met before. Push yourself, and you will see how rewarding it can be.
Do prepare yourself in other ways too (not just your networking questions!) Make sure you have looked at the list of exhibitors if you are attending a trade show, for example, pick out five suppliers you want to meet and that can genuinely help you with your job. If you are attending a soft skills training session think about your personality and how this session can help you develop your character to cope with the pressures of your current role. Before attending a conference take a look at the delegate list, is there anyone you’ve met before you can say hello to? Think of a question you can ask at the end of one of the sessions so that you are pushing yourself forward and getting over any public speaking nerves. There are lots of things you can do before an event to ensure you are well prepared for the day ahead.
Last but not least, follow up with the people that you met at the event. Connect with them on social media and remember if they needed any help from you to help! Connect them with the right people, suggest a great article that might help with their challenge or just say ‘Hi, great to connect, I’m here if you need anything!’.
Networking can mean many things. Yes, it can be attending an event at a venue full of strangers, but it also can be as simple as asking someone for coffee. You just have to make a start, connect with people and see where networking can take you!
Attend a Practically Perfect PA event!
We have loads of networking events that you can attend, where we put in to practice everything that we preach about networking! You will find, at our events, a welcoming warm environment that fosters great networking opportunities for every level of Assistant. if you can’t attend our Future Assistant Conference in London then join us online for our Virtual Summits, where you can network with Assistants from all over the world while you are in your office or better yet, at home in your PJ’s! You can view all of the events here.