It’s natural to be nervous before an organised networking event – or that’s what I’m telling myself anyway. Today I attended my first, and it was in a ‘speed dating’ set up, where PR students moved from table to table to meet PR professionals from the North East. Now, speed dating set alarm bells off in my head as soon as I heard about it. One-on-one, 15 minute conversations with a room full of new people- scary! But honestly, it wasn’t anywhere as scary as I thought. It turned out to be so useful and I ended up enjoying myself.
So, I thought I’d share some tips that I wish I’d had, on how to prepare for a networking event to ease those nerves..
1. Print out some CV/ business cards
Depending on the type of networking event you’re attending, a CV may be really useful. If there are possible employers there or possible work experience opportunities available, don’t be afraid to promote yourself. People are impressed that you’ve thought ahead, know what you want and if anything, it gives you a conversation starter/something for the professional to discuss. I also found I received a lot of useful feedback on how to improve it for the future. Canva is a great site for creative CV designs.
Business cards are also a great way to provide potential employers with your contact details as they’re convenient and easier to keep than a CV. Professionals will be impressed that you’ve taken the time to get them made and you’ll stand out from the crowd.
2. Research the attendees
Have a list of who’s going to be at the event? Use this to your advantage. There’s nothing like a bit of professional stalking to prepare for a networking event! If you know who you’re going to be talking to, having a look at their websites or Twitter could give you topics in mind to discuss and conversation starters to get the ball rolling. Don’t take it too far though- asking if they liked their holiday to Spain back in 2013 because their photos looked great might be borderline creepy. Be cool.
3. Prepare questions
By prepare, I don’t mean write down and rehearse. It would just be useful to have a few questions in mind of what you could ask people to avoid the dreaded awkward silences. Professionals also don’t want to feel like a conversation is one sided and questions show you’re interested.
If you’ve researched who’s attending, the questions could be focused, or they can just be general like: ‘What do you look for in a potential employee?‘ My go-to was how could I improve my CV? People were really helpful and it kept the conversation flowing. Asking questions also eases pressure as it takes away some of the focus from you, even for a minute!
4. Be prepared to answer
If you’re networking with potential employers, it could be handy to mentally prepare some answers to general interview questions – nothing too drastic – just answers to things like ‘Why did you choose this industry?’ and ‘What experience do you have?’ It’ll calm your nerves if you’re even a little bit prepared, and impress people that you know what you’re talking about. Confidence is key.
5. Dress smart
I feel like this is always one of my tips, but it makes me feel more confident. If I look smart, I feel professional. It’ll also make a better first impression with potential employers if you’ve made an effort.