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Networking for women

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Women’s Networking Challenge

Networking is now the key method of expanding our business opportunities and widening our scope of contacts. As important as networking is, some women still find it a major hurdle. Right from the start we think we are going to be at a disadvantage!

We know that…

…there is probably going more men than women at any business event; a ratio of 5:1 is common.

…football will probably be the small-talk topic of the day.

…we are going to have to perform as professionally and confidently as our male counterparts if we want to win over business.

Many women attend our ‘Women Only’ Networking Courses with questions and concerns about Networking. We aim to answer the following questions:

How do I join a group and introduce myself when most groups are male and already established?

What do I wear to stand out and make a difference?

Where do I put my business cards?

How do I turn small talk into business?

How do I ditch someone who’s rude?

How do I deal with subjects I’m not interested in?

How do I deal with a person who is becoming too personal?

What’s the fine line between friendly and flirty?”

Often we believe we have to be better than our male counterparts. On the contrary; we just have to be better at being ourselves!

It’s easy to care too much about what we want people to think and say about us on a personal or business level. This affects what we wear, what we do and how we do it. We want to be perceived as confident, professional, knowledgeable and approachable, but what we often do is use inappropriate body language and appear self conscious and out of sorts.

Preparation before the event can be complex. Some image gurus say women should only wear black, brown or navy suits if they want to appear professional. But there is plenty of opportunity for originality and flair!

You should dress how you would like to appear to others: intelligent, confident, warm and friendly. Wear something that makes you feel good about yourself: if you feel good about yourself, you will perform better. But remember professionalism and comfort: too-high heels and over-tight skirts are both impractical for standing around for hours and will not create the right impression.

When you arrive at an event do you walk confidently into the centre of the room and look around, self-assuredly, for a suitable person or group to introduce ourselves to? Or do you avoid entering the room straight away preferring the sanctuary of the ladies loo? Here you can loiter until the main event is just about to start, and perhaps meet up with a like-minded lost soul to hitch on to for the rest of the event.

Being confident means having poise and air of success about you. Try walking 3 paces into the room, pausing and smile while you look around slowly and gracefully. You’ll feel good, in control and the chances are you will have been secretly noticed. When you introduce yourself, be clear and don’t smudge: you want people to hear your name. Use a technique we call ‘pause and effect’. Say your first name, pause, then say your first name again with your surname, boldly. It’s a bit like ‘James… James Bond’. It will ensure you sound confident and prepared. Practice it! It’s worth it.

Business cards are vital for networking. Are you able to confidently produce yours? Or do you root around in your handbag, flustered, hoping that nothing untoward pops out?

Wear trousers with pockets or unpick the pockets of your suit: five business cards are not going to make a difference to the line of the jacket! Remember to keep one pocket for your cards, and another for the cards you have been given by others, so you never have to search through a wad of cards to find the right one.

Body language is also important. Do you stand on crossed legs, high heels poised to slip, your arm across your body to grasp at your handbag strap? This can make you look awkward and out of your depth.

To look poised and confident, you must have an ‘open’ stance: be aware of the space around you, and use all your body language to communicate and listen actively. Openly smiling , being focused, nodding, asking questions and good eye contact will always show you as a “good conversationalist”.

Small talk builds relationships. While men often cut to the chase and discuss business far too early, women are usually brilliant at it. But what if the discussion turns to something you’re not interested in? Do you hope such matters don’t come up? Or do you just say ‘I don’t know much about that, but show an interest by asking questions about it?”

The trick of building rapport is to be INTERESTED rather then INTERESTING. Avoid hijacking the conversation; stay on the other person’s agenda, ask questions and smile. Networking is about getting other people to know, like and trust you.

Remember, women have great networking skills, they are naturals; good listeners, interested, approachable and build strong relationships quickly.

Happy networking!

Written by Sue Tonks is a key presenter and trainer on business networking for Kintish. For the last 3 years she has specialised in developing networking skills, particularly with professional business women.

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