Public lectures gather people interested in the same topic as you are in one room so the number of productive conversations you can have is high and there is a good likelihood that someone in the room knows the people you need to know.
But you still need to make those connections happen. Many of my clients for bespoke jewellery have come directly from people I’ve connected with at different public events over the years. My interpretation is that after speaking to me face-to-face they feel they can trust me. They then check me out online and get back in touch when they finally need something special created.
After many years of practice and getting results these are my tips for networking at public lectures:
- Why are you here?
Always start with a networking goal in mind. Your time is precious so treat it like it is. What do you intend to get from the event? Know what you are looking for specifically. It is best to have two sets of goals. Goals that you can achieve yourself and a goals you can achieve through others.
The goals you can achieve through others are the ones we think of when we talk about networking. It’s finding the right person who makes the introduction to the woman who works for the woman you dream of meeting. But this is not always going to happen (although it will happen more the better you are at networking because networking is a skill). However you should have another set of goals which are just as important in the long term.
- Personal development goals
I think these are usually missed. Personal development goals will allow you to get something out of networking at a lecture regardless of whether the magic happens or not. Networking takes time so you want to make it count. Firstly, you’re at a lecture. What can you learn from it? I’ve found thinking purposefully about what is being said makes a huge difference to what I take away. I consider: what can I possibly learn from this? What can I apply? Not just ‘is this true or false/what are the possible objections?’ or ‘what’s new in this?’
Networking also gives you the ability to practice interacting with people. Are you shy? Then force yourself to start conversations with three different people before you leave. Are you bad at listening? Then practice active listening and making people feel heard. Are you a bad conversationalist? Practice making people laugh and making them feel they’ve enjoyed speaking with you.
Over time these skills can really give dividends and being good at them makes it much more likely that when you cross the right person they will want to build a professional relationship with you.
- What can you offer?
At the beginning I spoke of people I met at public lectures getting back in touch with me , sometimes after half a year, to request some bespoke jewellery. To these people I offered a clear value proposition. They knew what the point of keeping my details was for them in terms of achieving some goal they had in their mind.
What value do you bring to the person you are talking to? Notice you can’t understand what the answer to this question is without first knowing what this person wants. Don’t be that person who goes around trying to sell stuff to people. Networking is not that. Networking is about listening to people to understand what they want and helping them achieve that. You’ll have much better luck seeking to help people than to benefit from people. The relationships you build have a way of giving back in all types of unexpected ways.
But understanding how you want people to remember you is an important part of this too.
- Pitching yourself
What value are you looking for? Is it a job? Is it a sale? An introduction to someone? Some advice? For each goal you have create a way of talking about yourself. Depending on what the person you’re speaking to says you can introduce yourself memorably in the way that most closely matches where you can both offer each other something and can build a working relationship. That way they know what would be of use to you and when they should contact you or recommend you.
But make it easy for them. Find a formulation that is easy for them to remember and crucially easy for them to communicate to someone else. It is worth asking the other person what they do first to understand how best to pitch yourself to be as relevant as possible to them.
- Stand out visually
I have found that dressing extravagantly through jewellery, my outfit or another accessory made me surprisingly popular. It was not something I did consciously and I do not do it all the time but when it happened the first time I was shocked by how many more people approached me after the lecture than usual. The next time I dressed up it happened again.
It’s easier to do as a creative, for sure. And you should always dress in a way that is true to yourself or people will come to know you and expect of you someone that you’re not. Also dress appropriately for the gathering.
Just something to try.
- Make people think
People are at the lecture to learn something and advance in some way. Think of a great question at the end that gets the speaker and audience to think. People will remember you and feel comfortable approaching you or with you approaching them. Thinking a great question up is also a good way to engage with the lecture yourself and push your own professional development.
Don’t ask a question just to sound intelligent or hear yourself speak though. Nobody has time for that. If eye rolling made a noise you wouldn’t be able to hear yourself speak. Try to really add something to the lecture for yourself and everyone else.
Try to pursue your question a little further with the speaker after the event if you’re able. In this respect a good way to come up with a good question and advance your own development from the lecture is to write down a few ideas ahead of the lecture about what you would ideally like to find out. What would bring you forward? This puts you in a good place to consider the gap between what you’re hearing and what you expected to hear.
What value can you offer? Find out what your friends, family and colleagues think. It could give you a whole new perspective on how others see you and how you can relate to them and to yourself.
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