Though I’ve been going to various networking events for years, it took me a long time to perfect my approach to that bewildering opening question: “so, what do you do?”
Somehow, whatever you actually do just doesn’t seem quite enough, when it’s stripped down to a boring old job title.
To someone who has never met you before, your job title will define you instantly. Yet it never tells the whole story. Your job title will hardly ever hint at juicy insider tales begging to be told, it’ll just paint an immediate, identikit picture of a boringly everyday life.
(Especially if you’re wearing sensible shoes, you’re clutching a mug of coffee like your life depended on it, and you’ve already waxed lyrical about the traffic being murder on the way in).
Marketing consultants always recommend coming up with a snappy little pitch you can roll confidently out at these events. “You need your intro to encapsulate who you are, what you do, how you help and who you help,” trills one marketing website.
But these sound polished, unnatural and impersonal, in the way an obviously rehearsed pitch always tends to.
OK, so you might impart some immediate information about yourself. But when you consider how busy most people are, and how a lot of networking events start ridiculously early in the morning (read: pre-9am), it can be hard to muster the energy needed to respond to someone telling you all about how they help people increase the loading speed of their website, because they’ve got a degree in technology, and they realise how important it is for customers to get their information as soon as they decide they want it.
That’s the networking conundrum in a nutshell: all most people want to hear is a clear and easy job title that can be easily responded to with a polite nod.
So with all that acknowledged, how do you introduce yourself at a networking event?
For me, it’s simple. It all depends on the person I’m talking to.
My aim is to find someone who looks friendly, then find out more about them. That’s it.
My part in the conversation will always flow naturally from there, and because I’ve shown an interest in them from the start, they’re usually a bit happier about listening to me rambling on about writing.
Most of the time, anyway. One networker recently fixed me with a bored stare, and an empty-sounding: “there are loads of writers around here…why do you bother?”
Which brings me onto another benefit of my relaxed approach: it’s got the wonderful effect of separating wheat from chaff. I’ve worked hard to build my freelance writing career, so I don’t go networking just to ingratiate myself with other people.
Talking to people at a networking event is like a job interview, in that it’s always a two-way street. I want to find and work with interesting, interested and curious people, or I might as well go back to being employed.
(Actually, that gives me a great idea for an opening pitch…)