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How to Build Your Business Network Effectively

Updated on May 1, 2014
A handshake is always a good start
A handshake is always a good start

Making the most of Business Networking Events

Business Networking is a phrase that can strike fear into many people’s hearts. The idea of turning up to a business networking event where everybody else knows each other and having to walk up to and make friends with people you don’t know can be an intimidating prospect. Breaking into a group conversation can be easier said than done, but when you apply some simple techniques and have had a little practice you will soon get the hang of it.

Remember the reason you are business networking in the first place is because it is a valuable and necessary part of business. I used to hate it, but now I find it much easier and quite enjoy it. Once you have mastered the basic rules the rest should flow easily and you will soon build your confidence. Also remember that at most business networking events or situations there will be many people in exactly the same situation as yourself so you are not alone.

People want you to talk to them

You may think that walking up to an unknown person and striking up a conversation is one of the most difficult things you might ever do. However, there are many people at networking events who are in the same boat as you. If you search for these people they will be very happy to engage in conversation and will be over the moon that someone has taken the pressure off them by taking the initiative and starting the conversation.

If you see someone standing alone it may well be that their boss has sent them to a networking meeting to meet some new people or bring in some new business and they are trying to build up the confidence to go and start a conversation with someone. If you approach them they will appreciate your efforts and will be grateful that they don’t have to make the first move.

This guy is desperate to talk to you.
This guy is desperate to talk to you.
I wouldn't approach this guy if i were you.
I wouldn't approach this guy if i were you.

Body language is key

The first rule of business networking is to always observe peoples body language. If they are standing, openly looking out to the room they should be open to an approach and it will be easy to start up a conversation. Conversely if they are looking away or are looking at their phone they may be less susceptible to an approach and should probably be avoided.

This is also very important when approaching 2 people together, ensure you observe their body language and hand gestures before interjecting into their conversation. If they are open networking, standing close together but open to the room, they are actively inviting people to come and join their conversation. In this instance simply walk up to the pair say ‘Hi, I’m …… would you mind if I join your conversation?’ they will certainly say yes and will be glad to share their conversation with you.

However, if they are huddled in a corner deep in conversation and are face to face, not looking out to the rest of the room you should not approach, but instead look for a group who are more open to approach. If they are standing out at the edge of the room they are consciously keeping themselves apart from the rest of the group and probably don’t want to be disturbed either.

It's always easier to start with a friendly face
It's always easier to start with a friendly face

Look for friendly faces

The easiest approach at Business Networking Events is to make is to someone you already know, so if you are feeling nervous the first thing you should do when arriving at the business networking event is to have a quick scan to see if there is anyone you recognise. This not only makes those first few uncomfortable minutes when you have no one to speak to easier, if they are speaking to someone else or another group this will give you the opportunity to make new contacts and increase your network group which is what business networking is all about. At the next networking event you will be able to approach those people much more easily.

You should always still check their body language first, if your friendly face is deep in conversation and has negative body language, you would be better placed to wait for them to finish their conversation or wait until they open up to the group before approaching.

Speak to as many people as possible.

I know it is tempting to stick speaking to one person all night if you have struck up a rapport with them, however business networking is all about increasing the size of your group of contacts so the more people you speak to, the larger your business network will become and the more likely you will find people to speak to next time.

Wait for natural gaps in the conversation

You should however, if possible, always wait for a natural gap in the conversation before approaching, this could be when someone leaves to go to the toilet, buffet or to move on to a new group or if there is just a natural lag in the conversation. Also if members of the group are looking out to the room their body language is suggesting that they are looking for someone new to speak to. That could be you.

Waiting for the gap in conversation allows you several benefits, firstly you are not breaking into a conversation, and secondly you will be able to introduce yourself to the whole group creating a more memorable impression.

Thee are small and large groups everywhere, take your pick.
Thee are small and large groups everywhere, take your pick.

Large vs. Small Network Groups

Approaching groups of 3 or more can seem daunting as all of the attention will be on you when you approach. However, there will usually be members of the group who aren’t talking as much, if their body language is open you can start talking to these individuals first as you would not be disrupting other peoples conversations.

Essentially the bigger the group the easier it is to approach and join the conversation it also allows you to get known by a large number of people at once increasing the size of your business network and giving you more options at future business networking events. However, the smaller the group the easier it is to get to know someone well and it is more likely you will be remembered next time. So for effective networking you should aim to approach large and small groups, both to get to know people well and to increase the size of your network of contacts.

Don’t be too late

It is always tempting to turn up late to a business networking event and just arrive for the presentation or seminar, but in doing so you are really wasting the opportunity to build your business network. Also if you arrive late many people are already in conversations making it more difficult to network. If you arrive earlier there will be numerous people on their own waiting for people to speak to which will make it much easier to network and increase the likelihood of someone talking to you first.

Basic rules of business networking

  • Always introduce yourself with your name, that way people will remember you better and will feel comfortable in approaching you at another networking event.
  • Aim to wait for a gap in the conversation before approaching so that you have everyone’s attention when you approach.
  • Check people body language and only approach those with positive body language who are looking to be approached.
  • Speak to as many people as possible, that way you quickly increase the size of your network and you will have more options at future networking events and will probably have people approaching you.
  • Arrive early; this gives you more chance of finding people on their own who aren’t in conversations.

Business Networking Summary

At all business networking events there will people standing on their own, in small groups, larger groups and those who just don’t want to be there or talked to. If you can observe their body language you will quickly get used to identifying the best people and groups to approach and the more you do this the more you will build your confidence and the easier it will all become.

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