It's not what you know, it's who you know, so whether you love it or hate it if you work in business, you're bound to have to network at some point or other. I'm inclined toward the love side of the spectrum (anyone else enjoy small talk? Just me? Ok). But the one thing that engenders a mild amount of apprehension before every networking event is the inevitable question; "So, what do you do?".
The hardest question to answer
Now, you might be thinking "Tess, of all the questions you could possibly be asked, that is probably the easiest to answer". If you were thinking that, you'd be wrong. That question has multiple layers, a multitude of nuances, and a plethora of expectations. Are they asking what my official title is that’s written on my business card, what I put on my tax return, what I say at family functions when my elderly relatives ask, or the actual things I do on a day-to-day basis? Because what I love about working at Yarno is that I have no one thing that I "do". My tasks range from setting up ad campaigns to UI/UX design, to editing videos and creating animations, to coding email templates, to writing the occasional blog article. What I hate about working at Yarno is: how on earth am I suppose to answer that question articulately and in a socially acceptable amount of time?
Recently I attended a networking event and ran into this exact problem. I started up a conversation, and after about 45 seconds, the dreaded question was asked. After a brief moment of internal panic, I decided not to opt for my standard vague and somewhat clumsy response and instead be honest. I admitted that I had no idea how to answer that question, which prompted a much more interesting and in-depth conversation (it also got a laugh – you decide which is more valuable).
Networking is all about making connections, but before that, it's about first impressions. We all want to put our best foot forward to appear professional, knowledgeable, and on-top-of-it. Not having an answer to a question as simple as "what do you do?" seems like a surefire way to appear like none of those things. Still, my response was what differentiated me from the other 40 people who had answered the same question that day. I'm not saying answering every question with "I dunno" is a good idea, but my first tip for networking is don't give the answer you think people want to hear, because more likely then not they don't, and they've probably heard it 100 times before anyway.
Here are 3 more tips I've learnt about networking:
Have an elevator pitch
I work at Yarno, I know what it is and what we do. I didn't think an elevator pitch was that important until I found myself chatting to someone about Yarno in an actual elevator. I learnt 2 things that day; 20 seconds is not a lot of time to explain an entire business, and an 'elevator pitch' is very aptly named. You never know when you might run into a potential customer so having a quick, easy to understand pitch is crucial. When creating a pitch, keep in mind a couple of things:
- Avoid buzzwords or internal terminology – no one will have any idea what you're saying, and you won't have time to explain.
- Stick to the core purpose or function of your business – forget about the bells and whistles and focus in on what you actually do.
- Tailor the pitch to the person – everyone's different, from different industries and companies and with different needs, so if you can, vary up your pitch to best suit who you're talking to.
- Practice it – this goes without saying. Practice your pitch on whoever, wherever you can and don't be afraid to tweak or update it if you find it's not working.
This may sound cheesy, but your mum was right when she gave you this advice before your first day of kindergarten. Networking and talking to people becomes a whole lot easier when you're not pretending to be someone else and makes for a much better foundation when building long-term relationships. Have you ever tried maintaining an English accent for months because you thought you'd only see the person once but then started bumping into them all the time? No? Trust me, it's exhausting and very complicated to try and explain later.
Just as important as being yourself, don't be afraid to have a personality. Yes, you should always be professional and respectful, but that doesn't mean you have to be a robot. Make a joke, discuss one of your unusual interests, tell a little anecdote and soon enough they'll be thinking, "That Tess is so funny and likeable I'm going to give her all of my business and money." Boom. Networked.
You've exchanged business cards. But - did you know that business cards serve a purpose other than ornamenting your wallet? Business cards mean business. You've got the details - now use them. Add them on LinkedIn, email them, whatever. Have a bit of repartee about the cakes and biscuits you munched on at the Business Leaders Brunch. Before you know it, you're out to drinks and they've got a business opportunity you'd be absolutely perfect for. Your ambitions met and a new friend. Networking isn't so bad after all.1. 1.
Tess is our in-house design savant, fashion leader and a pretty darn good writer. Whether it’s creating digital designs, blogging about learning science or rocking a neck-scarf, Tess can pull it off.
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