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Hands up, who loves to go to networking events?

If I was to hazard a guess, I imagine many people working in Northern Ireland don’t love the thought of attending networking events. When I worked in the bank, I attended training on how to handle networking events. A very excitable lady came over from England and told us how we should behave at networking events. Her tips were something like:

  1. Always Smile
  2. Always be laughing
  3. Always be talking
  4. Always inject yourself in to conversations
  5. Always work the room

Now, her intentions were good, and this method does work in other parts of the world but in my experience the Northern Ireland personality generally doesn’t tend to enjoy this approach and would find it cringe worthy and cheesy.

If you google top tips for networking, you will find similar tips online and, again, this works in other cultures but here in Northern Ireland we are cut from slightly different cloth. So, with that said, I am going to attempt to give 5 tips for networking events that hopefully won’t make you cringe.

1.      Who? What? Where? When? Why?

OK, an easy one to begin with: know your event! I both attend and host events in my current role, as do the majority of my office, however events differ by industry, location, time of day, topic and reason. In the past 12 months, I have been involved in hosting 3 events at our office:

  • World Cup Meet Up – 7pm – Guest speakers from world of sport – Food and Drink provided
  • Employment Law Breakfast Seminar – 8am – 2 speakers talking about laws within work place – Breakfast provided
  • Accountancy and Legal Wine Tasting – 7pm – Presentation on French Wines – Wine and cheese provided

All 3 of these events are networking events but they all are very different and different things can be taken from each. 

In all honesty, I tailored these events to make networking as simple as possible and thankfully they proved the case. When choosing events to attend I suggest you look at the Who? What? Where? When? Why?

  • Who? & What? – So, you’re a solicitor focused solely on Family Law and that is your only interest. You see an event being hosted by a textile company on energy saving in the market. Now, would this event benefit you? Most likely not and you would probably feel a bit out of the loop.
  • Where? – You are based in Coleraine and are a local Solicitor, and the event is in Armagh. Is it likely your client and referral base will be there? Most likely not. Now that said, maybe if the event was in Ballymoney with clients from your firm there, well then it may be worthwhile. 
  • When? – To be honest this shouldn’t really affect your decision, if the people are in the room and the topic and host is relevant to you then the time plays no factor.
  • Why? – Again, if the who, what and where suit you then it probably won’t really matter to you why the event is being held and the benefits already are there for you to attend.

2.      Introduce yourself

If you find yourself talking to someone at an event, make sure and say, ‘I’m David McCallum’ (obviously use your own name). It’s amazing how many people will talk to me and not tell me their name; it’s a simple thing and it’s good manners. If you join a conversation you may interject beforehand, but after you do, make sure and say, ‘Oh by the way I am…’. 

3.      But I get nervous unlike you Legal Dave!

Those that know me know that I don’t really get nervous or anxious before events or social settings. I am naturally relaxed, and I know this is a big plus for me in terms of attending events, however I have experienced extreme nerves and hopefully my tip on what I did to overcome them might help…

I was best man at my friend James’s Wedding. The dinner was before the speeches (Still haven’t forgiven him for that), and I got an awful bout of nerves.

This level of nerves was new to me. I used to be a Wedding DJ and never batted an eyelid when doing those but now I am sitting literally shaking, feeling sick and unable to think straight. The obvious answer would have been to go down some pints, but the thought of that made me feel worse and give me the fear of suddenly being drunk on stage. Then suddenly the answer came to me: embrace the nerves! I decided to steer in to the storm and started talking to myself as I would to a friend who told me they were anxious. I told myself this will be fine, nothing bad can happen, just stick to what you have written down and things will work out ok. Thankfully this worked and I was able to do the speech and enjoy the rest of the evening.

This thankfully for me was an isolated issue, however I have friends who have confided in me that even the thought of heading out to a social setting makes them feel sick and nervous let alone a networking event. This must be tough, and I would never belittle anyone who feels this way as nerves and anxiety are a dreadful thing. My advice is to speak to yourself as you would speak to a friend going through a similar issue and also take a few deep breaths. A few deep breaths will lower the heart rate and help you relax. Also confide in people you trust, a problem shared really is a problem halved.

Ryan Calvert lives his life by the quote ‘Eat the Frog!’ It is a great way to be and my suggestion to everyone is try and do the same because these events are not designed to make people feel bad and once you attend a few they become easier and easier.

 4.      Eat the food!

For years I genuinely attended events and avoided eating as I thought it was easier not to be eating, then I realised eating the food broke the ice! I may now be guilty of attending events solely for the food, I like food, other people like food, lets talk about food. Honestly, I love nothing better than being at a breakfast event and seeing that as an excuse to forego my usual Weetabix breakfast for a Sausage or bacon bap and I can point to countless examples were a conversation has started with someone based on it, for example ‘That’s a great bit of back bacon!’ A lot of events tend to have Pizza as the food, so I guess this tip is cheesy!

5.      Don’t feel you have to work the room!

Initially when I went to events, I thought it was my aim to speak to everyone there and deliver everyone my card. Then I realised that if you get in to a good conversation that it is actually a bit mad to suddenly stop that and move on. I liken it to an evening out when people move bars and then spend the rest of the night seeking the atmosphere, they had in the initial bar they were in. I have also discovered that if you get a conversation going this will attract others to join in and suddenly rather than anxiously walking round a room trying to interject in to conversations you find yourself in a casual conversation that is bringing people to you.  

There are also some obvious things that you need to make sure and do:

  • Have plenty of Business cards
  • Be presentable
  • Probably avoid making controversial statements or opinions

I don’t know if these tips will necessarily help but if you want to ever discuss feel free to come over to me at the next event you see me at!


To speak in absolute confidence about any opportunity please contact David McCallum, Legal Recruitment Specialist at MCS Group on 028 9023 5456

MCS Group – Proud Sponsors of the Law Society of Northern Ireland

All conversations will be treated in the strictest of confidence.