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From Small Talk To Big Opportunities: How To Network When You Don’t Know Anyone

17 days ago by Rose Hunt

From Small Talk To Big Opportunities: How To Network When You Don’t Know Anyone


​We’re constantly being told how important networking is for our careers. That it’s the best way to make new industry connections, forge relationships, swap ideas – perhaps even get a new job or meet your next hire. However, while this is all undoubtedly true, networking when you don’t know anyone else in the room can still be daunting even for the flutteriest of social butterflies. In fact, research from LinkedIn shows that although 80% of professionals agree that networking is essential for professional success, one-third struggle with knowing what to say when making those all-important connections.

How Do I Start Networking, Anyway?

‘Networking’ can mean different things to different people. You might choose to conduct your networking online, making connections on professional platforms like LinkedIn and getting involved in the conversation (and if that’s the type of networking you’re after, you’ll be better off browsing our guide to building a personal brand on LinkedIn.) However, for most people, networking means getting out and about in the real world meeting other faces in your industry. If you’re just starting out in your career or you simply don’t know many people, this is easier said than done. Here’s a few tips to get started:

  • Check industry publications or websites for upcoming events

  • Reach out to people you admire in your industry on LinkedIn to ask if they know of any events in your area

  • Join professional organisations for your industry – that way you’ll receive newsletters and be invited to meetups and conferences

  • Follow hashtags relevant to your industry on LinkedIn and other social networks, so you can be the first to know when a relevant networking opportunity arises

  • Join online groups and communities dedicated to your line of work, so you’ll get the chance to be involved in events as they’re being planned.

Networking In-Person: Six Simple Tips To Curb The Awkwardness

Okay, you’ve found the event you want to attend, and you’ve worked up the nerve to actually go there. Now, let’s take a look at how to navigate networking alone.

1. Do some prep beforehand

Most of the time when you register to attend an event online, you’ll be able to see a list of other people who’ve also accepted the invitation. It’s a nice idea to add some of these people to your connections on LinkedIn beforehand, mentioning that you noticed you’re both attending the same event and you’d love to have them in your network. That way, when you see them, they’ll probably already know who you are, and it’ll be easier to strike up conversation.

2. Look for other people who might be alone

The easiest people to talk to at a party are those who feel as lost as you do, and the same goes for networking events. Look out for people who might be wandering about looking at the pictures on the wall, gazing out of the window, or standing tentatively in the corner. These people will likely welcome your advances, and chatting to them will be a great way to warm up!

3. Just say ‘hello’

I know it sounds awkward, and simply walking up to a stranger and saying hello is an introvert’s worst nightmare, but a networking event is exactly the type of environment where people will expect you to introduce yourself. A quick, ‘Hi there, my name’s so-and-so and I work for XYZ’ with an outstretched hand should be enough to prompt further conversation about your job or industry. Alternatively, while you’re waiting in line to get your name tag, why not tell the person next to you how much you’re looking forward to the event? Practising a few opening lines in the mirror before the event is a good idea, too.

4. Prepare a few conversation starters

The great thing about networking events is that you already know you have at least one thing in common with everyone else in the room – you’re all at the same event for (presumably) similar reasons, and you’ll all be watching the same speakers. This makes it really easy to strike up some conversation about how the day’s going, or about your industry.

Networking Conversation Starters

‘What did you think of the keynote speaker?’

‘Is it your first time at an event like this?’

‘What brings you here today?’

‘What are you most looking forward to this afternoon?’

‘How long have you been in (your sector)?’

‘Have you prepared any questions for the speakers?’

‘I really loved what the speaker said about XYZ. What did you think?’

Alternatively, you may wish to keep things a little more casual, especially if you’re looking to build informal relationships. For example, after you’ve warmed up with a few introductions, you might ask:

‘What does a typical working day look like for you?’

‘What do you like the most/least about your job?’

‘What made you choose this career?’

‘What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received in your career so far?’

5. If in doubt, head for the bar

Whether you’re a drinker or not, the bar is another great place to make connections. Maybe you spot someone who’s ordering the same drink, wearing nice shoes, or looking as nervous as you; either way, it’s another opportunity to strike up conversation without it feeling awkward or forced.

6. Remember to follow up afterwards, and connect on LinkedIn!

Make a mental note of people you meet at the event and what you talked about so you can drop them a note afterwards to say how much you enjoyed chatting with them, and send them a LinkedIn connection request. If you run in the same professional circles, chances are you’ll meet them at another event in the future, and you’ll be able to pick up where you left off.

Ultimately, it’s important to remember that networking is just like any other skill in life: the more you practise, the easier it will become. It might seem like everyone knows everyone and you’re the odd one out, but even the most savvy networkers were nervous outsiders at one point. With a bit of preparation beforehand, a pinch of confidence and a dash of perseverance, you’ll be a networking ninja in no time!

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