By Becci Gould, Account Executive

When beginning my career in public relations and events, as an ex-English Literature student relatively new to the business world, I felt completely out of my depth when thrown into networking situations.

With experience in events management already under my belt, I had no qualms about single-handedly organising the Cardiff Breakfast Club meeting only two weeks into my time at Petersens. However, outside of the comfort zone of the Cardiff Breakfast Club, I felt like a lost puppy, inexperienced and out-of-place. 

As a concept networking is unusual:  a group of people gathering together with the aim of acquiring information from each other, whether it is advice, business or contacts. Although on the surface the upfront selfishness of networking appears strange, is the concept that different to the interaction that takes place in other situations?

Presumably many of the relationships we build and maintain outside of business have benefits to us personally, whether it be friendship, enjoyment, support or advice – we all want or need something from our friendships even if it is to feel better about ourselves by offering our own support or advice. The difference is we are just not that upfront about what we want from the relationship.

In simple terms, networking is just a shortcut – and in the business world this works.

Once you can get your head around the fact that people are talking to you because they need to rather than because they want to, networking can actually be quite an interesting and enjoyable experience. Nevertheless in my opinion, it is certainly an acquired art…and presently one I am yet to get the hang of.

In a quest to conquer the lost puppy feeling that usually overwhelms me in networking situations, yesterday I decided to attend a workshop specifically designed to improve networking skills.

The free workshop presented by Tim Campbell, winner of the first series of the Apprentice, and organised by Cardiff Council and South Wales Chamber of Commerce was aimed at those taking their first steps in business whether it be starting up a business or beginning a new career.

The workshop began with a short game of musical chairs, where we were asked to leave the comfort of those we had dragged along with us and brave the array of unknown faces that filled the room. Once acquainted with our new ‘friends’, we were asked to tell them one thing that we needed in business in order to practice being open and direct.

Although sat by music students, who unfortunately informed me that they could not teach me how to play the tuba in ten minutes, I did discover that networking isn’t just about getting what you want but also about helping others as, in this case, I was able to offer one student career advice and work experience in event management.

Was this successful networking? I think so – even though I didn’t get what I had needed, I had got our name out there and gained comfort in the fact that I wasn’t the only one who was daunted by the prospect of networking!

So how do the professionals do it?

Here are some tips I picked up from the workshop:

Before the event

  1. Prepare your pitch – What is it that your organisation does? What is the idea behind it? What are the benefits? Where’s the proof? What do you want?
  2. Ask the organisers for an attendee list – study the list, determine who may be useful to you and what you want from them.

At the event

  1. Swap your name badge for a business card – this is about you and your company not the organisers
  2. Scan the room, warm your hands (no-one likes a cold hand) , locate the bar (very important), take a glass in one hand and transfer to the other to avoid clammy hands, scan the room
  3. Locate your first potential connection – usually someone standing on their own
  4. Approach with a smile, ask permission to join them, then introduce yourself
  5. In terms of body language – keep an open stance so people can approach you at any point

Moving on

Networking is a dance not a marriage”  – Tim Campbell

  1.  Don’t spend all your time with one person – once you’ve got what you want from them or exhausted the conversations, don’t be afraid to move on
  2. If you haven’t connected with a person– begin looking over their shoulder for your next target, pretend you’re going to the bar (ONLY if his/her drink is still full), then politely move on
  3. If the conversation has been successful or you got on well with the person – offer to introduce him/her to another connection then leave the conversation yourself (sly but not so offensive)

Business Cards

  1. If someone gives you a business card, it is polite to give them one back – keep business cards in your jacket pocket if possible
  2. Keep all useful business cards in one pocket and any you don’t need/want (but were too polite to tell them) in the other pocket

After the event

  1. Redeem your new business cards – check they all make sense in their respective piles – discard of any you really don’t need and store useful contacts in a safe place or transfer details to a database
  2. Follow up any successful connections with a thank you email
  3. Relax

Petersens’ Tips

  1. If you’re on Twitter, why not see if the event has a specific hash tag e.g. #cardiffbreakfastclub so you can join in any debates and interesting topics that may be going on before, during and after the event.
  2. Arrive early – people will then have to approach you rather than the other way around
  3. Ask open-ended questions to avoid short ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers to prevent that dreaded awkward silence
  4. Don’t drink too much – pretty hard to go wrong at the Cardiff Breakfast Club with orange and cranberry juice but good to remember
  5. Don’t talk about yourself too much or be too negative (nobody likes a misery guts) – try to remain positive and interested at all times 

Seem Simple? Try it yourself by attending a Cardiff Breakfast Club business networking event…just email Becci Gould on for details.

  1. Nice article, I’ve re-tweeted it!… ;]

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