The thought of networking events can be incredibly daunting. They are often expected to be awkward, filled with strained conversations and uneasy loitering. I am now three years into my PhD and have learnt a few fail safe techniques to make any event not only manageable but also useful for developing contacts - the purpose of networking!
Networking is a skill and, like all skills, it needs practice to become proficient. However, as with most things, there are a few shortcuts you can take to make things easier. As a fairly shy and quiet person, networking wasn’t something which came naturally to me, but now I actually look forward to it! It would be wrong to say I never get nervous about serious networking events (no one wants to look like a fool) but I am definitely more confident than I was three years ago.
Here are my top tips to survive and thrive at any networking event…
Tip 1 - Have some sort of drink with you - tea, coffee, water, whatever you prefer. Having a drink to hand can give you something to do to make yourself look less nervous when you are talking to people. If drinks are supplied, always get one, it can be a great place to spark up a conversation.
Tip 2 - Ahead of the event try to find out some people who may be attending. This way you can have good questions prepared and not just be lost for words.
Tip 3 - Following on from above, at conferences remember that academics love to talk about their work. Mention something specific you have read and listen while they chat away. Ask your pre-thought-out questions and you will look great!
Tip 4 - Value other students as credible contacts. They will feel the same as you at these events, will be easier to approach than academics and will be very knowledgeable. Also, being introduced to an academic at a conference by their student shows great networking from you and their student. Win win!
Tip 5 - Remember faces. People are easier to approach the 2nd time round and you are likely to be attending similar events in the future. Talking about past shared experiences is a great ice breaker.
Tip 6 - Don’t underestimate small talk. Nobody wants to talk about work all the time. Talking about day to day life is still networking and making contacts. People feel like they know you more and this is great for being memorable.
Now, what works for me won’t necessarily work for everyone else. Some people are just born able to handle these sort of events without an ounce of awkwardness (oh to be one of these people!) While others - like me - need to practice. My main message from the above tips is just to dive in! Fake confidence if need be. You can be nervous on the inside but with a little bit of acting nobody will be able to tell. And finally, remember networking events are never as awkward or isolating as you think they are going to be. Enjoy them!
Chloe Marshall, PhD researcher (The Medical School)