Networking plays an important role in business life. It’s an excellent chance to meet new and potential clients, improve business relationships with colleagues, make new contacts and business partners. It can even be a make or break for that big promotion you’ve been working so hard for. No pressure, right?
When English isn’t your first language, networking can be a terrifying prospect. There’s no need to hide in the corner. With these top tips for networking in English, you’ll be chatting with confidence and be able to make the most of any networking event.
1. Research and Prepare Before You Go
Often when attending a conference or seminar you will receive a list of the companies who will be in attendance or participating. Consider who you would like to connect with and do a little research on their company beforehand.
This way you can prepare and practice some questions you would like to ask them. Not only will this help make you feel more confident in your English skills and in approaching these people, but you will also give a good impression.
2. Greetings and Etiquette
In most English speaking cultures greeting someone usually takes the form of a firm handshake, and saying ‘Hello, nice to meet you’ or ‘Hello, how are you?’
At international events or companies, you may also have the opportunity to meet people from other countries and cultures. Being aware of different greetings is a good idea so you don’t offend anyone or get offended.
For example, handshakes in the UAE can go on for a long time. This is normal, so don’t try to pull your hand away! Other cultures may stand quite close to you, others will want their personal space. Be aware of body language, and take your cue from the person you’re talking to.
3. Small Talk
Small talk may not be a part of your business culture, but it is expected in certain places. For example, in the USA and the UK it’s considered rude if you don’t engage in small talk and go straight to talking about business.
Small-talk may seem trivial or time-wasting to some, but it’s considered a polite way to ‘break the ice’ and make a personal connection.
Once the greeting and introductions are over you can strike up a conversation. The best way to do this is to have a few small-talk questions at the ready.
Before you attend a networking event prepare to talk about some general topics, such as the weather or maybe the hotel you’re staying in. Again, practising phhrases before you go can help you overcome your fear of speaking English.
Here are a some different areas for suitable small-talk and some useful examples:
- How was the weather when you left (enter their home town or country)?
- Dreadful/Wonderful weather we’re having!
- Is the weather always this good/bad here at this time of year?
The Person’s Hometown or Business Location
- Oh, you’re from Scotland? I’ve always wanted to visit Edinburgh.
- I see you have opened offices in Melbourne. It’s a wonderful city.
Places of Study
- Did you study in the States? Which university?
- I understand you went to the University of Texas?
General and Common Experiences
- What do you think of the food here in ______?
- Are you staying at this hotel?
- Have you had time to so any sight-seeing?
- If you haven’t visited the museum yet, I would highly recommend it.
4. Steer Clear of Touchy Subjects
There are some topics of conversation that are best to stay away from when you are meeting people for the first time.
While most of these are obvious, there may be some topics open for discussion in your culture that are considered ‘no-go’ areas in other cultures. It’s better to be safe than sorry, so here are a few topics to avoid when networking:
- Current affairs (which may spark strong opinions)
- A person’s appearance
- Anything too personal
Family may be considered a very personal area for some people, so it’s a good idea not to ask questions unless they open the topic for conversation. For instance, if someone mentions their family, then you may enquire further or share your own family information.
- Yes, the kids love coming here for the summer.
- You have kids? I have also have two. How many kids do you have?
5. Listen and Respond
Being a good communicator is more than being able to speak the language. Listening skills should never be overlooked. This goes beyond listening and understanding the words!
Listen to what your conversation partner says, and ask suitable questions. Follow up questions not only help keep the conversation flowing, but show the person that you are interested in what they say and will help build your business relationship.
You can form follow up questions using ‘5 W’s and H’ approach:
Although normally used for journalism, it’s also a great tool for networking as it keeps the conversation going and helps you find out more about the person. Of course, don’t over do it! You’re having a conversation, not interrogating them!
Try to use one or two of the words to help form follow up questions. Say someone is talking about an article they read, using this technique you could form a couple of follow up questions, such as:
- Oh, that sounds interesting. Where did you read that?
- Do you remember who wrote it?
- When was it published? It would be great to get a copy.
Network with Confidence
There you have it, five simple tips to business networking in English. If you are looking for further help with your business English, there are loads of resources and lessons available on the Business English Community. Sign up today and take your Business English to the next level!