Has social media forever usurped the art of face-to-face networking? Throughout the last decade, technology has advanced almost beyond human interaction, with digitised self-service methods making it easier for companies to by-pass talking to customers (never a wise move) and email and social media placing physical screens between you and the person you are connecting with.
Instead of attending networking events we are more inclined to join communities, networks and groups on social media platforms. While this is a good way to connect with people in your industry, not only around the country, but across the globe, the relationships built there are arguably much less sturdy than those founded on face-to-face interactions.
The benefits of face-to-face networking
Firstly, we must build the case for face-to-face networking. In any industry, the speed, convenience and anonymity of email can be appealing. There is no real exertion required, it can be sent from your smartphone and you can forget about that conversation till later.
For these reasons, however, face-to-face networking is likely to be much more powerful than finding and creating connections online. The person you are communicating with will also forget about you until you make yourself relevant again.
Meeting people face-to-face, however, allows you to create a lasting impression. One of the outcomes of successful networking, of course, is you scratch my back, I scratch yours. You are looking to build a network of useful contacts who will think of you when they need help, and who you can turn to when you require assistance. Creating a lasting impression through a personal meeting is more likely to encourage your new contacts to think of you first, as you’re not just another avatar they have connected with on LinkedIn.
Additionally, meeting up face-to-face puts you in a stronger position when it co
mes to obtaining information from this individual. You might need to know the quirks of this person’s line manager before you schedule a meeting with them. Meeting privately in an informal, casual setting means you can discuss things off the record without being overheard by others working in your office.
Finally, bear in mind that written communication can be censored. People are likely to type out a sentence, think about it then delete it and try again. Face-to-face communication better allows you to get to know and suss out the person you are talking to. This can be beneficial for future business interactions, knowing what makes them tick and understanding how you can be helpful to each other.
How to network face-to-face
It is crucial for you to understand your goals before you meet with a potential contact, referrer or attend a networking event. What do you want to gain from this prospective relationship? Are you networking on behalf of your company or with the view to increasing your own personal network? There is no reason, of course, why these have to be mutually exclusive. Outline what you want to gain and what you are prepared to give.
Secondly, networking is a two-way relationship. In order to make the connection appealing to your prospective contact, make it clear how you can help them. Offer a favour or advice. Make it clear that you are an expert in your field and will be a useful person to know. Drop in examples of your experience and make it clear why they will benefit from knowing you. Definitely do not lead by asking for a favour. Indebt this person to you: this places the power in your hands.
Networking the room
When it comes to networking events, make an effort to attend these alone. Though it can be reassuring to attend industry events, functions and conferences with a colleague or team, this can actually discourage you from branching out and engaging with people you don’t. If you go alone, you have no other option but to talk to new people. Unless you spend the whole day alone in a corner with your smartphone, but this would defeat the point.
Remember that everyone at these events has the same outcomes in the back of their mind: the desire to build mutually beneficial relationships with industry insiders, thought leaders in other industries and meeting useful contacts. It can be intimidating to attend these events alone, so if you have existing contacts there, be sure to use these to your advantage by asking for face-to-face introductions, which will make your life easier.
Networking is all about mutual benefit. It can be pleasant when you meet with someone you get on with and can be infinitely more beneficial when conducted face-to-face than online. Be approachable, friendly and show a willingness to help. Focus on building a network of long-term relationships face-to-face rather than the fleeting, fickle connections made online.