Speaking to brand new people doesn’t come naturally to everyone and not all of us have the luxury of feeling comfortable with a complete stranger within minutes. Successful networking, no matter if it is a fashion event, art exhibition or a specific networking event, is just like smashed avo on toast. Research is the plate, your outfit is the toast, being present is the poached egg and enjoying yourself is the smashed avo, (after all it’s the whole reason you’re going), and practise is the cracked pepper and squeeze of lime on top.
Firstly, research. My guess is that you are going to this event because the people you want to work with are there or people you aspire to be like are presenting. Spend time prior to the event researching these people, know who they are, what role they play in the business/company they work for and be familiar with their previous work as well as their upcoming work. Research is the plate your smashed avo on toast is served on and no one wants to eat off the table. You’ll be in a room where no one knows your name so the chances of someone coming up to you and chatting are slim. Research ensures you know who’s who, that you have grounds to start a compelling conversation and it can also come in handy to keep the conversation going.
Your outfit is the toast. I’d rather be slightly over dressed than drastically under dressed and I’d rather stand out than blend in. In the fashion/art scene, a statement piece could strike up a conversation helping you make a new connection. Not only does your outfit need to be on point but you need to pack your positive attitude and confidence. You might meet someone who you don’t “click” with but be positive and polite to everyone, they could have more industry experience than you so chatting with them is a great opportunity to learn. If you’re like me, it will take every ounce of confidence to approach someone who is succeeding in the field of work you are just starting out in, so your outfit selection can act as the extra confidence boost that you’ll definitely need.
Be present. Have you ever had a conversation with your friend and you know they aren’t listening? Their face is blank or their eyes are glued to their phone, they give you the generic head nod and agree with anything you say, offering no input at all. When networking try to be both interesting and interested. Share enough to provide direction for a decent conversation and offer questions to continue the conversation. While someone is talking to you don’t be mentally making your grocery list, if this is an event you want to go to, even if you are nervous, it shouldn’t feel like a chore. Much like the addition of a poached egg to your smashed avo, by being present in the moment and engaging in conversation you will have a more enjoyable time.
Now for the best part, the smashed avo. Enjoy the event! While it may not be laughing hysterically, it’s about making mutually beneficial connections to achieve your goals. It’s hard sometimes thinking back and knowing you would’ve had a better time if the whole squad was there. While I love my main squad, I don’t take them to networking events because I’m more inclined to have fun with them than do any networking or make new connections. Meeting new people who are working in the same industry as I am is exciting, it is a unique opportunity to gain a new perspective and this is what I love about networking. I’m more than happy to go alone and put myself outside of my comfort zone to take advantage of the chance to connect with those who have more industry experience than I do.
Last but not least, the cracked pepper and squeeze of time on top; practise makes perfect. While you might only meet one or two people at your first networking event and end up being too nervous to speak to an industry professional you look up to, don’t worry, you’ll improve. The more often you network the more comfortable you feel and initial conversations become more natural. Networking events offer such unique opportunities to meet like-minded people as well as industry professionals and the connections you make can be valuable to building your career in any industry.
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