Arrgghhh! The dreaded scenario - arriving at a networking event where you know absolutely no-one. Yup, it's a scary but there are tons of benefits.
Dubai has a very transient society – some people are here for a few months, a year, a few years or longer and people move about, between jobs/between cities, quite frequently. When you attend networking events you will find that between 80% and 90% of the people in the room have never been before. Even seemingly staid organisations have new visitors join their networking groups every time. So, what’s the best approach?
- Realise that nearly everyone’s in the same boat. This is honestly the truth in Dubai because of the transient society.
- It’s always best to go on your own – that way you actually have to talk to people and move out of your comfort zone. If you go with someone you tend to end up talking to that person all night long (that’s not really networking!) nor do you meet anyone new. Or you can intimidate others if two of you approach a person on their own – it’s not always a case of ‘safety in numbers’.
- Make sure the event is compatible with you/your work/your company. It is pointless attending a networking event relating to IT if you’re a photographer (unless of course you have a specific interest in IT if you’re a photographer and vice versa).
- Sometimes the event website lists the attendees – have a look and see if there’s anyone you think you would really like to meet. If there is don’t appear to be a stalker and ‘hunt them down’ at the event! Depending on the number of people at the event you can usually find them quite easily. Just remember – don’t be creepy!
- Get to know the venue before you go – it helps with peace of mind. Google the venue – what about parking (but remember – do not drink and drive). How long will it take to get there – if it’s during rush hour traffic add a little extra time – don’t arrive all hot and bothered/flustered! No-one else cares but it doesn’t help you if you’re a little anxious about attending the event in the first place.
- Be clean! You’re going to be shaking a lot of hands – take some wet wipes with you. One of the worst things (ever!) is shaking a sticky dirty hand – yeuk! Do not smell of BO or have bad breath. No-one wants to smell your lunch/dinner 🙁
- Use the bathroom when you first arrive and check out your gorgeous bod/face in the mirror 😉 Make sure you are looking your best – smart, clean clothes please!
- Although networking events are about helping you in your work, you can often meet your new best friend – male/female, from any continent/country in the world, age is immaterial and the job is immaterial, just go with the flow.
- Simply collecting business cards or handing out your business card (or thrusting one in someone’s face) are not the actions of a good networker. Get to know the people you are talking to – be interested in them and find out what they do and where they work. 99% of people love to talk – they just aren’t heard! Listen to what they have to say – we often learn something vital simply by listening to someone else. Giving someone your undivided attention will make them feel good.
- An absolute NO NO is collecting business cards and sending an email the next day simply talking about your company. No-one’s really interested. They’re interested in you – yes, YOU – so believe it or not a simple email saying it was lovely to meet the person (if it was lovely to meet them of course) and that you hope to meet them again at another such event is a nice way to help them remember you. If someone wants the type of service/product which your company offers they’re more likely to contact you if you’re friendly and not salesy!
- When in conversation with another it is a huge NO NO to look over their shoulder or around you to see someone you think might be more interesting. If you’re talking with someone give them your full attention and at some point in time excuse yourself and meet someone else. Do not suddenly interrupt them and say ‘oh, there’s so and so…blah blah blah’. Your street cred will go down the tubes! This also means no to peeking at your mobile every few minutes – nothing is as off-putting.
- Talking of mobile phones – switch the thing off. It really is exasperating to be in the middle of conversation which is interrupted by someone answering their phone – you are not so very important and neither is the call – 99.99% of calls can wait.
- If you get on really well with someone suggest a coffee during the day and stick to a maximum of an hour or so. Remember your safety – your personal information, i.e. your address etc should remain private.
- Linkedin – all well and good but don’t try to link to everyone you meet – be selective otherwise you end up with a wad of people who you will not remember (and who will not remember you!) a month down the line. Just because you’ve got 1,000 connections on Linkedin doesn’t make you a good networker or a good person – just someone who collects names and numbers!
- Don’t sell your services at a networking event – of course, you’ll usually be asked during the course of the event what you do – tell your story but don’t be a pushy sales person – you’ll find everyone will want to leave you alone!
- Some companies send 2, 3 or even 4 representatives to ‘work the room’ – if you’re the owner/manager of a company who does this – don’t. As they’re ‘working the room’ they tend to rush round and half way through the evening the other attendees realise that they’ve already spoken to someone from that company…that they’ve already spoken to someone from that company….that they’ve already spoken to someone from that company….again and again….boring!
- During the course of the event do not gossip about anyone you have met – Chinese whispers and all that jazz can come back to haunt you.
- Another absolute NO NO is using the event as a dating event. Few people go in the hope that they meet the man/woman of their dreams!
- One or two drinks is fine – more than that and you could start spouting rubbish and making a fool of yourself. No-one particularly likes a drunk – even a funny one.
- After attending any number of networking events you can get ‘network burn-out’, i.e. you can’t find the energy to attend another one. Give yourself a break and don’t go. Nothing life changing will happen if you don’t go but you’ll feel better staying in and looking after yourself. When you’re ready to paint on a smile and chat to lots of different people about lots of different things get back out there.
- Always remember to enjoy networking – it can be great fun if you don’t take yourself too seriously but show enthusiasm for your business and what you do.
- One of the greatest pleasures in networking is connecting people with people. If someone needs a service/product which you don’t offer, suggest someone else that you know and make the introduction either at the event or the next day. Your good deeds will always be repaid and the people you connect will always remember you.
- Most events charge a small fee – it could be anything from AED 50 to AED 250. Some want you to register and pay in advance, some give you an option to pay cash on the day and some just want you to register because it’s a free event – check out the website.
Where To Find Networking Groups
There are many groups in Dubai. We’ve noted some below which are some of the most well known but there are plenty of others.
- The Meet Up site has over 100 professional networking events – use the filter to find the ones which interest you.
- BNI is an organised professional networking group who meet very early in the morning for a couple of hours and usually have a breakfast together afterwards. You may be asked to say something about yourself/your company in a slot of about 30 – 60 seconds. There are different ‘chapters’ throughout Dubai – visit a few to see what you think and whether you feel comfortable with the group. There is an annual membership charge.
- IBWG is a women’s group which has been around for a while. Check out their website for details and information on the membership criteria.
- Dubai Chamber has different events throughout the year which, strictly speaking, are not networking events but you will always meet people as there is usually a short networking period before and after the event. Most events are chargeable and open to non-members. You cannot pay cash so arm yourself with a bank card! FYI – If your company is registered with the DED and an LLC then you are automatically entitled to membership as the membership fee is paid at the time of the issuance of your license. For others you need to join and pay the membership fee.
- BBG – British Business Group which has a number of events throughout the year.
- Dubai Internet City, Dubai Media City, TECOM etc organise events – check out the official list of Dubai free zone websites which interest you
- There are many business councils in Dubai – check out this list. Contact them and find out when they have the next event scheduled – if any – some don’t have any events or restrict guests but ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’. The French Business Council is quite active, as is the Australian Business Council.
- Then there are any number of events and exhibitions being held in the Dubai World Trade Centre. Register and attend if you’re interested in a particular exhibition.
- You’ll probably find that in your industry there are smaller, less marketed events. Research your industry in Dubai and there will be an event – go!
If You’re Looking For A Job
Tough as it is, please hold back from screaming from the rooftops that you need a job. Wait. Once you’ve had an interesting chat with someone at the networking event let them know that you’re actually in the process of looking for a job and if they hear of anything to remember you. Do not force yourself upon them. Have a card which is unusual and eye catching. It’s worth spending a little extra money on a decent quality card which introduces yourself and your talents/experience. Don’t try to squash all the information onto these little cards – simply note the most relevant. Definitely your name and definitely your email and mobile number but you can also add your Linkedin and Facebook information. This is something more akin to the old style ‘calling card’.
Make sure there are no typos! Simple is effective – no frilly edges etc. Clean cut and informative is best. Keep colours to a minimum.
And we wish you the very best of luck in your job search.
The advice provided in our columns does not constitute legal advice and is provided for information only. Readers are encouraged to seek appropriate independent legal advice.
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