I am a firm believer in preparing for anything. Even a conversation with a friend. In fact in professional situations, I advice that you always be over-prepared! Impressions count a lot in the professional world. You will get judged based on how you articulate yourself and if you fail to anticipate some of these questions and situations, it may feel like an ambush. You may end up making a complete fool of yourself which hurts your self image.
When getting ready to attend a networking event, there are a few must-dos that should be carried out.
Proper research into the event is always the first step. Remember, our aim here is to appear well informed and useful. It is therefore against the rules to attend an event without any knowledge on the organizers, the theme, how that relates to you professionally, how your skills/expertise interact with this topic etc….
The other element of research has to do with the knowing the individuals who will be in attendance. Research their companies as well as their roles, their plans, projects being undertaken etc. This will make you sound very knowledgeable during conversations. This will also give you a chance to seek clarification by asking well thought questions that are based on well-researched facts and not rumours. Remember, it is your responsibility to “sell yourself” indirectly and impress this stranger who might be your future employer.
I call these items of trade. That means that you should not show up to a networking event without business cards-Unless you’re Chris Kirubi, Beyonce’ or Uhuru Kenyatta. If I cannot Google you and get a thousand results for only you specifically, then I need your most up-to-date contact information. You get the drill here? There is no way a CEO will take out his phone so he can save your number/email. He/ She will also not read out to you their number so you can flash them.
Now, before you tell me that you do not have a job at Safaricom or Barclays Bank-which is the reason why you haven’t got any business cards, listen up. I got my first business cards during my 3rd year of university. You simply go to a your laptop or a cyber cafe and design a business card in Microsoft Publisher. After this, you can go to any printing shop and most cyber cafes and get several copies printed. It costs less that Ksh. 10 each.
Design takes a few minutes with all the templates available. The details required are;
Having your business cards at hand speaks volumes.It puts you at a level above a student/ unemployed graduate. You will be instantly taken more seriously! In addition, you will have something to offer when exchanging cards with other professionals. So, ensure that you always have these whether unemployed or otherwise.
I have heard a popular quote that says ‘You should dress for the job you want, not the one you have.’ I agree 100%. This is something that students especially fail to take seriously. As unfair as it may sound, within the first 30 seconds of meeting you, an impression of you has already been created. So, when attending a conference, cocktail or networking event leave behind your jeans, hoodies and t-shirts. Wear a well pressed outfit and formal closed shoes. The idea here is to look less like an unemployed student and more like a seasoned professional.
Language may fall under grooming, but since this is Kenya-the home of sheng’-I feel that I must address this individually. English is Kenya’s official language. If you have gotten secondary or tertiary education,it was delivered in English. An employer therefore expects you to speak in clear English without mixing it with Swahili or Sheng’. When you attend a networking event you are expected to clearly articulate yourself and communicate in proper English. I have had instances where a young chap responds in Swahili/Sheng to a question in English. Do not be shocked if a professional fails to even take a second look at you after such an incident.
I hope these tips will be helpful as you prepare to network and speak to some interesting professionals.
Look out for the next publication, It will shed light on how to follow-up on the contacts gained after a networking event!