The science of networking: How to leave a lasting impression at your next conference
For some professionals, the idea of networking can seem intimidating. Even the thought of walking into a room of strangers can be enough to deter a person from making that first move.
Some will write it off as inessential, believing that their work and resume can speak for itself. But experts suggest that networking doesn’t need to be so intimidating and is in fact useful for every profession.
“You’re doing yourself a disservice if you simply rely on your work speaking for itself,” says expert Marie-Hélène Budworth, an associate professor at York University’s School of Human Resource Management. “Even high-level work requires a bit of promotion.”
Here are some actionable expert tips to master the art of networking, presented in partnership with the NAV CENTRE, a state-of-the-art events venue located in Cornwall, Ont.
“You don’t want to end up in a cycle of the same events with the same people,” says Budworth. “Early career research says you want a large number of weaker connections.”
Authenticity is key. One of the best ways to help achieve authentic encounters is by looking at the networking event in a different way.
Don’t burden yourself with the pressure of finding important people and impressing them. Instead, approach the scenario as an opportunity to meet new people.
“Reframing it can often be a helpful way of releasing the significance of the event and allowing you to be a bit more natural, which people will respond to better,” says Budworth.
It can be helpful to come up with a plan of how to chat with people at the event, says Chris MacLeod, author of The Social Skills Guidebook.
“Don’t over-complicate things and try to memorize 80 different lines. Just have something simple to fall back on if you feel lost,” he says.
Broaden the bubble
Try to develop a broad network rather than a focused one, especially when you’re just starting out. “Go to events that are not only within your field but outside of it,” says Budworth. “Often we need people who have novel resources.”
It can be useful to follow the event listings at major conference venues such as NAV CENTRE in Cornwall, Ont. to find events that span a large professional plane.
This could mean leaving the bubble of your own city. “You don’t want to end up in a cycle of the same events with the same people,” says Budworth. “Early career research says you want a large number of weaker connections.”
Small talk is acceptable
There are two schools of thought around small talk, says MacLeod. The first is that you should avoid it and ask “unique, engaging questions that set you apart from the pack.”
But MacLeod identifies more with the second: it’s alright to begin in the simple territory of traditional small talk (asking someone how their evening is going or what they do for work).
“If you ask those questions, but your body language and intentions come off as friendly and sincere, no one’s going to begrudge you for asking them,” he says.
Ask for advice
People love sharing their own ideas and insights, says Budworth. Networking is not dissimilar to an informational interview in which a job seeker meets with a potential employer to learn about an industry and the opportunities within it.
“You have to have a conversation, rather than encourage them to lecture at you,” she says. “But asking for advice is actually a great way to get insights from people who know more than you [and it] lets people know that you’re curious and interested.”
NAV CENTRE is the largest hotel and conference centre in Eastern Ontario, located just an hour from Montreal and Ottawa. The venue caters to all types of groups from social events, weekend getaways, conventions, retreats and special events.
Schedule a visit with the NAV CENTRE today and book your next professional conference. With 70 state-of-the-art meeting rooms and topknot on-site planning and logistics support, it’s the most ideal space for a networking event.