I recently spent the evening with around 100 of our brilliant Helm members at our New Year social event in London. Although at Helm we mostly focus on roundtable dinners in private dining rooms, where we share challenges and advise each other, these occasional socials are a great way for our members to meet other members, and I’ve always been a big fan. The event was in relaxed surroundings in Soho, and with conversations flowing, it was an opportunity to reconnect with old friends and forge new friendships.
This got me thinking about the power and value of networking. There is no substitute for meeting people face-to-face and making personal connections, it’s something that has never fully recovered after the pandemic.
The power of in-person events
Overnight, in-person events were cancelled or postponed. Many of us rapidly discovered Teams, Zoom or Google Meet and were flooded with invitations to attend webinars or online conferences to the point where many of us reported Zoom fatigue.
There’s no doubt these platforms have been valuable and have changed the way we all do business. They are fast, efficient and a great way for people across multiple locations to collaborate. In recent times, there has been a return to live events, but this has been slower than expected and people are going to fewer events than they used to.
But, we are social animals and there is no substitute for meeting a person in the flesh, and building the personal connections you simply can’t achieve on a screen. Plus, it’s a lot of fun!
As I looked around the room at the event, I saw founders enjoying themselves, meeting new and old friends, and relaxing. There was no urgency to power-network… It was all very organic, and I know from experience it leads to meaningful connections and long-term relationships.
Now that most of us attend fewer events, we must make the most of them to build connections. For founders, networking is an important skill as you are in the business of selling yourself and your ideas. Plus being a founder can be lonely and building a network of like-minded people who are on the same journey as you is a massive asset.
But after such a long break, returning to live networking can be intimidating, especially if you are walking into a room of people you’ve never met before. So I thought I’d share a few tips I’ve picked up from networking and the friends I’ve made at the numerous events I’ve been to.
Top tips for networking success
The first thing is to go to relevant events. There’s little point in going to a property lunch if you’ve founded a health tech business. Secondly, if possible check who is attending in advance and ask the event host if they can introduce you to a particular person you’re keen to meet; make the most of existing relationships.
When you arrive, head to the bar or coffee station as it’s a great place to strike up a conversation. This gives you the opportunity to walk through the crowd and spot some open groups to join.
If you want to break into a group, a good tip is to make eye contact with a person facing you who is not currently talking. As they glance in your direction, others usually will too and welcome you into the circle.
Once you’ve got talking to someone, ask open questions, rather than simply saying ‘What do you do?’ Several studies have shown people who approach conversations with a curious mindset and ask more questions, particularly follow-up questions, are better liked by their conversation partners and tend to build stronger connections.
Networking never stops
And remember, networking doesn’t stop when the event stops, it’s an ongoing process. It’s always worth checking in with your contacts via email or LinkedIn, or even better inviting them to attend another event with you.
Making a connection isn’t simply adding them to Linkedin. Once you’ve connected with someone, always follow up after the event with an email, and ideally with a brief call to get to know them better. And, once you do, ask them who else in their network they feel it’d be valuable for you to meet. Very importantly, be open with your connections. Introduce them to someone they find relevant, and they will reciprocate.
As the old saying goes: ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know’. Investing in improving your networking skills and growing your contacts will pay you back many times over throughout your career. So start looking for your next event now.