The most enjoyable part of my job is networking. I love it. Meeting people, making friends, learning about my market, and if all goes well arriving at a great business result too. It is something that should be an enjoyable, relaxing and enlightening experience but for some people it’s a nightmare. On paper I can understand why. I remember my first networking event. Walking into a room of strangers who all seemed to know each other and attempting to join their conversations. It was a stressful experience, but soon I found my feet and started to really enjoy myself! If you’re struggling, here are 8 simple tips that will make your networking more effective and enjoyable. 1. LEAVE THE SALES PITCH AT THE DOOR! Obviously one of the main reasons we network is to pave the way for future business opportunities but remember these things take time. Go easy on the sales pitch and instead work on building a rapport with the people you meet. No matter how good you are or your product is nobody wants to chat with a salesperson when they are trying to enjoy themselves. Exchange business cards and if an opportunity arises then follow up on it. 2. Ask permission to join a conversation. This is just basic manners but it can mean the difference between an awkward, uncomfortable silence and a smooth, enjoyable conversation. Most people will be glad for you to join in and the simple fact that they have said so can break down even the most robust mental barrier. 3. Be prepared to discuss the market. After exchanging cards the conversation may well move on to the state of the market. Read up on it - and on other current events - before you go. You don’t want to have just handed over your stylish, professional business card only to make it look as though you don’t have the knowledge to go with it! This is especially true for recruiters. Business leaders tend to ask recruiters about the market and trust our responses because we are so immersed in it on a daily basis. You won’t make a lasting impression on anyone you meet if you end up chatting about the weather. 4. Relax. Easier said than done, especially if you are not normally an outgoing or socially confident person. It is easy to overthink and get yourself in a fluster about walking up to a group of people who are already talking enthusiastically amongst themselves. The thing to remember is that everyone is there for exactly the same reason as you – to meet new people and build new relationships. Anyone who seems to know everyone will have started out a lone networker the same as you and will happily welcome you. 5. Don’t overdo it at the bar. Networking events usually have a certain number of free drinks. You might feel the need for a little ‘Dutch courage’ so by all means enjoy a drink, but don’t go overboard. Getting tipsy at a business event isn’t a good look. People won’t take you seriously – it will give them a negative view of you and your company. It might even get back to your employer, so best to avoid this situation altogether. 6. Be yourself. I know this sounds like a cheesy bit of advice for a first date in an American teen movie but it is valid. People can spot a fake and they don’t respond well to it. Be your unique self and people will be interested in you. 7. Ask questions. Don’t fall into the trap of talking about yourself too much. A conversation is meant to be a volley – say something about yourself and then toss the question back. People love to talk about themselves, but no one likes to hear someone drone on. Ask questions. It’s such an easy way to engage people and make them feel interesting and special. If you show a genuine interest then people will remember your conversation as an enjoyable one and will be happy to hear from you again. 8. Follow up with an email the next day. Again this is just good manners. By the end of the night you will probably have accumulated a business card or two so now is the time to whip them out and solidify that relationship. Nothing too corporate – remember people like other people, so perhaps comment on a conversation you had during the event and say that it would be great to keep in touch. This is all common sense but it is astounding how easy it is to forget the basics when you are out of your comfort zone. Keep these tips in mind at your next big networking event and before long you will be counting down the days before the next one!