By Kavita Rajagopalan
Have you ever stood in the corner of a conference hall, wondering how to make your first introduction? Marvelled at folks who move across the room effortlessly, speaking to one person after the other? Have you felt nervous walking up to a donor, speaker or an influencer in your field? The good thing is you are not alone. As a new entrant into a field, you are constantly told that you must network. But no one tells you that networking is a nerve-wracking experience that sometimes puts you well outside your comfort zone.
The truth is, networking is important. When you are setting up your enterprise or building your organisation, you have to get your name out there. You need people to know who you are and what you aim to accomplish. Networking is an art, but it is also a skill that you can build. So the next time you are out at a conference or an event, here are a few things you can do to network better.
Who’s attending?
Every big conference or event lists all the confirmed speakers and panelists; most even list attendees who have signed up. Before you attend the event, make sure you look through the list and identify people whose work aligns with yours, and who you want to speak with. You cannot speak to everyone at these events, so be strategic about picking three or four key people you absolutely must connect with.
Have you done your research?
Now that you’ve narrowed down on your list of targets, do your research about them. You clearly are reaching out to them because they can either support you with their expertise, fundraising or mentoring. So make sure you know as much as you can about them. That will help you refine your conversation and ask the right questions. You need to have more to say once you’ve said hello and introduced yourself.
Can you do a quick pitch?
As a start-up entrepreneur, you must be ready to pitch your enterprise to anyone at any time. Make sure you have practiced a quick elevator pitch of your organisation, enough to hook the person listening to you. You must clearly communicate your product or service, your impact and your current status explicitly and in an engaging manner. That being said, it’s always good to have a customised version for people that you want to involve in the long-run.
Do you have a specific ask?
If you are talking to a potential funder, mention that you are fundraising; if you require some business mentorship, clearly talk about the areas in which you need support.
Picked up your business cards?
Before you leave home, make sure you have enough business cards. Even if you don’t get the chance to spend some time talking to people, you can always exchange business cards and follow-up immediately after the event.
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Kavita Rajagopalan has a decade of experience working in the education sector at organisations such as Teach for India, where she was part of the launch team, and Villgro, where she handled the education investment portfolio. She has a Masters in Education from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education.

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