September always has that ‘back to school’ feel about it, even though school is a distant memory! It’s the time when business gets back into the swing of things after the lazy days of summer, diaries start to fill up with meetings and the networking circuit revs up once more.
Are you ready to jump back into the fray? Do you look the part? Dressing well for networking events is vital, as is behaving appropriately. Read on to find out more.
Do your prep
Firstly (and regular readers will know that I’ve said this before) dressing well for an important business occasion requires preparation. And you know that networking is important; it’s an opportunity to make a great first impression with future clients, customers and partners, and it’s a chance to reconnect with existing contacts.
Putting some thought into what you will wear beforehand will help to ensure that you look your best, giving you the confidence to face any gathering with ease. Business is stressful enough – let’s take any last-minute clothing stress out of the equation.
Your outfit should reflect your brand, your level of expertise and your professionalism, particularly if you are going to speak or be photographed. Make sure you feel comfortable in your chosen outfit – you don’t want to be pulling at a sleeve or struggling in something that’s too tight or too short – it will instantly detract from that professionalism.
When planning your outfit, make sure you consider the time, venue and format of the event. Is it a breakfast meeting at the Institute of Directors or a casual ‘meet up’ at a local coffee shop? If you’re going to be standing around at an evening drinks event you may not want to wear your highest heels. Likewise, you don’t want to be suited and booted for an informal gathering. Check your outfit to make sure there are no stains, missing buttons or dropped or frayed hems. Make sure that your shoes don’t need to be resoled or reheeled, and that they’re clean and polished.
Mind your manners
Your impeccable dress should not be undermined by poor manners or bad behaviour. One of the reasons my business is called style&grace is because I believe that how you present yourself is equally as important as how you dress. In other words, how you speak, how you treat others and how you carry yourself all matter. Your manners and behaviour should complement and enhance your look, not undermine it. It all comes down to practicing good etiquette.
Here are my six golden rules for networking etiquette:
1. Introduce yourself clearly, and bring people into the conversation
2. Shake hands firmly - making eye contact and smiling as you do so
3. Keep your right hand free for that firm handshake
4. If you forget a name - say so! Don’t be embarrassed about it. Repeating names back works for me (and for many politicians)
5. Don’t eat or drink too much!
6. Follow up with contacts that you’d like to meet again by LinkedIn, email or phone - whatever works for you and is appropriate
And finally, take a genuine interest in other people; this is demonstrating the best manners of all. You’ll be amazed at what you learn and the common ground you might find.
Smart, professional, appropriate
Your three-word mantra when dressing for networking should be ‘smart, professional, appropriate’. Always. Don’t undermine your credibility by revealing too much flesh or wearing sportswear (unless that’s your business, of course). And remember, how you dress and how you behave speak volumes about you. Make sure you send the right messages.
STRUGGLE WITH SMALL TALK?
Debretts’ tips will get you started:
• Opening gambits. ‘Have you come far?’ is the Queen’s favourite. Or comment on a recent sporting event, the venue or the weather
• Avoid taboo topics. Death, disease, sexual orientation, religion and of course politics (despite Brexit…)
• Gossip with care. Avoid namedropping, and err on the side of discretion
• Breaking off . If you’re stuck with one person, introduce others into the conversation. Or, try ‘it’s been nice talking to you, but I suppose we’re expected to mingle?’
See www.debretts.com for further advice.
Tel: 07833 084864