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I receive many such invitations, but this one in particular caught my attention. Not merely a networking event, this was ‘a network of networks’ networking event. Really? How can you claim to be a network of networks? Is it a knockout competition? Does the winner stay on?

Corporate life is entangled with the mesh (the collective noun, surely) of networking events and I found the very thought of networking at a “network of networks” event suffocating for fear of being trapped in the event net and never working my way out.

For many people – me included – the thought of walking into a room buzzing with conversation can be daunting.

Everyone seems to know everyone else already and is deep in discussion. Take heart that people at a networking event actually expect to have their conversations interrupted. I’d suggest that you seek out the most relaxed-looking group and wait for a natural break before introducing yourself.

I was recently the guest speaker at my old school’s prize-giving ceremony and was asked to offer words of wisdom to the school-leavers.

I suggested that, in the effort to make a good impression at interviews, they consider the three Ps: be present (engaged and interested), have presence (be memorable for a good reason) and be presentable (suited and booted appropriately).

The same principles apply in networking. Engage in firm eye contact but don’t overdo it, since no one wants to be goggled at. Offer something interesting to say about yourself and try to find some common ground with everyone you meet.

Spray that again
“It may be tough in business, but at least the food is good.”

This may have been a flippant comment from a colleague of mine, but it’s certainly true and you simply cannot beat a good canapé.

In general, caterers advise allowing for half a dozen canapés per person.

How do they know? Is there an algorithm that takes into consideration multiple factors affecting the appetite of each attendee – the gourmand who sat a breakfast meeting on the morning of the event, bolting down Danish pastries; the goody-goody who opted for fruit; the one who thinks breakfast is for wimps; the one who had a three-course business lunch; the gym bunny who spends every lunchtime pumping iron; and the one who can never resist raiding the vending machine for an afternoon snack – and ultimately comes up with six?

Catering requires careful planning and, quantitative and dietary requirements aside, would event managers please heed what I believe to be the most important catering question: is it a “pop” or a “bite” canapé?

This is crucial – networking abilities hang precariously in the canapé balance. Can I pop a canapé delicately into my mouth in one go, or do I have to bite it? The latter will guarantee only one outcome: unsightly crumbling accompanied by likely drippage.

Also, experience leads me to caution against applying a pop technique to a bite-sized canapé. Shoving in the larger type of morsel in one go will neither give you presence nor make you presentable, as even the smoothest of operators will lose their poise when masticating endlessly with bulging hamster-cheeks. Been there, chomped on that.

This charming man
I believe that people do business with people they like and that the goal of networking should be to leave the event having found the right contacts and made a connection with them.

The tricky part is identifying the right contacts, so we work the room – an art that definitely requires a lightness of touch. I say this because one former colleague would regularly and rather pompously tell me: ‘Oh, yeah. I worked that room so hard last night.”

After a while, I started questioning whether “worked the room” was a euphemism. I’m no gambler, but I’ll happily bet that his approach involved a quick glance at a lapel badge, a rapid detail assimilation followed by a lightning judgement (“no use to me; move on”).

I doubt that he made a great impression. I’m often asked about the networking nightmares I’ve experienced.

The worst one has to be the man in the City who approached me, peering at the badge pinned to my right lapel at chest height. He read my name aloud before looking at my left breast and asking: “And what do you call the other one?”

The good news is that I no longer wonder what tumbleweed sounds like, because he utterly killed all conversation around him. I think we can safely say that we haven’t done business together.

Julia Streets is the founder and director of Streets Consulting (www.streetsconsulting.com), an international business development, marketing and communications consultancy. She is also a writer and stand-up comedian. Her book The Lingua Franca of the Corporate Banker explores the “idiomsyncracies” of business and includes a glossary to assist anyone who is baffled and frustrated by corporate jargon.
Facebook The Lingua Franca of the Corporate Banker
Twitter @streets_julia
Email julia@streetsinthecity.com

Illustration: Dmitry Litvin/Dutch Uncle

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