How to prepare for networking when it’s out of your comfort zone

Written by Career Mums

8th November 2018

Sally Content Live Nov 2018

I spend a lot of time involved in networking, both face to face and on-line.

Networking is all about connecting, introducing, collaborating, sharing, influencing, impacting – essentially meeting people.

Networking has been one of the most significant ways we have grown our Career-Mums business from an initial business idea that Nishi and I had over coffee almost 4 years ago.  We help our coaching clients and the amazing women in our Career-Mums community find their ideal next role, start their own business or explore retraining opportunities – this generally involves some element of networking …. and most people cringe at the sheer thought of it!

Through our sister business, CM Talent, one of the many ways we support the development of more women leaders, is by teaching networking skills and how to master career development within corporate environments.

Nishi and I developed our business on the back of our own personal experiences of taking a career break whilst our children were young, experiencing loss of confidence, professional status and lack of value, that a lot of other parents and carers struggle with too.  And realising that there wasn’t much support available to get our careers back on track, we decided to do something about it and set up Career-Mums 3 years ago.

In these 3 years, networking is an activity that I have grown to love and I know it is good for business.  Whether it is speaking at networking events, meeting influential people that can introduce you to others, connecting with potential clients or supporting others in their journey, I have become comfortable with networking, and I’d even go as far as to say, “I am a confident networker”.

However, next week, I will be attending a networking (and learning) event in London – Content Live, organised by PR and marketing guru, Janet Murray.

This event feels out of my comfort zone for 3 reasons:

  • I don’t personally know anyone else that is going (apart from Janet!)
  • It’s focused on marketing – I’m a HR and coaching professional – so it’s not my area of expertise
  • It’s in funky, youthful Hoxton, East London … I’m not-so-young and am used to doing my networking these days in the not-quite-so-cool West Midlands

However, I know that being out of my comfort zone is an opportunity for growth and adventure. And with some preparation and planning I can ensure that I make the most of the opportunity.

So for preparation, I am going to heed the advice that we give to our clients when they are feeling out of their comfort zone with networking.

Here are my top 5 tips for preparing for networking when it is out of your comfort zone, and how I will be following these tips:

1. Know your “why”

Understanding my purpose for attending the event.  Janet is a very slick marketeer, so when the tickets went on sale for this event, I decided instantly that I wanted to attend, but it’s important for me to understand what I am going to get from my investment of the price of the ticket, cost of travel and a day away from doing my client work.

My purpose for attending the event is to: focus on developing my marketing know-how, to enable us to grow our business further in 2019, making a positive difference to the lives of more working parents, and to ultimately help me achieve my overall purpose of inspiring more women leaders.

2. Set goals

I can break my purpose for attending the event down into specific goals to enable me to be focused and create measurable outcomes

My 3 specific goals are to:

  • Connect with at least 10 people during the event who could be useful to my business
  • From the speakers and experts in the room, write down the key learnings that can be put into action in our business during the next year
  • Enjoy the event – be present, be involved, be passionate, be open to learning and have fun.

3. Be prepared

I will do my “homework” before arriving at the event to know who is going to be there and what to expect.  Janet has kindly created a Facebook group for attendees and introduced some of the speakers via videoconference, which is a great heads-up.

To prepare further I will:

  • connect with speakers and attendees on Twitter (you can connect with me @SallyDhillon)
  • check out the speaker profiles,
  • create some key questions to ask the speakers about their areas of expertise
  • connect with some of the attendees beforehand
  • (most importantly) check out the logistics for getting there.

 4. Plan follow-up

To ensure that I successfully meet my purpose for attending the event, I will schedule time in my diary after the event to follow-up.

I envisage my follow-up activities will include:

  • Review how I did on achieving my goals and asking what I can learn about myself from this (rather than beating myself up if I don’t achieve them!)
  • Following up with each of the individuals that I connected with
  • Creating on outline of our marketing plan for 2019.

5. Make an impression

First impressions count – especially at networking events, like in interview situations, as time tends to be limited and conversations short.  It’s important to influence these first impressions and represent who I am and our business values.

I intend doing this through:

  • the clothes I select to wear
  • choosing to be in a confident physiological state
  • contributing to the learning sessions
  • engaging openly with speakers and attendees with warmth, openness and integrity.

Sadly I will only be able to attend one day of the two-day event and can’t attend other activities around the event such as branding expert, Phil Pallen’s breakfast session or dinner, due to family commitments – something that a lot of our clients deal with in their careers as they juggle family and professional priorities. My FOMO (fear of missing out) feels huge, but equally I could have chosen not to go at all and then totally missed out!  I chose to believe that I will get out of it, what I put in and intend to make the most of my precious time there.

And interestingly, having now written this blog post, consolidating my thoughts around my preparations for the event, it doesn’t feel so big, scary and out of my comfort zone any more!

Believe me when I say, if I can network successfully, anyone can.

Use my 5 top tips for your next networking event:

1. Know your “why”

2. Set goals

3. Be prepared

4. Plan follow-up

5. Make an impression

And if you have a networking opportunity coming up and you would like some help preparing for it, why not try one of our affordable Confidence Booster coaching sessions.

In the words of Kim, one of our recent clients, who has recently started her own retail consultancy business, having previously worked for a number of large retailers:

“I’ve always been quietly confident and got on with my job, but I’ve never needed to promote myself before and didn’t enjoy talking about me. I didn’t want to “stick my head above the parapet”. Now I’ve experienced coaching for the first time, I’d highly recommend it. I’ve now got more confidence to talk about myself and I’ve built my resilience and impact. I’m already seeing a positive impact on my business and client base. I’m feeling more empowered and have a higher self-worth.

Are you a working parent or a parent currently taking a career break? 

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