Canadians and their reputation for being friendly, polite, and inclusive precedes them globally- but how does this translate into the world of business networking? 

Today, we aim to demystify the art of networking and building professional relationships in Canada. What is appropriate small talk, how do you network with Canadians who speak French, what kind of networking events are common in Canada, and are business cards still a thing? 

Let’s set you up for success in the Canadian entrepreneurial landscape, where understanding cultural subtleties and effective communication could very well be the differentiating factor in forging lasting partnerships.

Canadian Networking Events: What to Expect

Networking in Canada can take various forms, from casual coffee meet-ups like Brampton Coffee n Code, and business mixers like Morning Mixer, to massive industry conferences like Collision. Regardless of the scale of the event, certain strategies can help enhance your networking experience. Let’s delve into some practical tips:

  • Be on time or early: Canadians are punctual people. Arriving on time or a bit early not only shows professionalism but also gives you a calm moment to get a lay of the land – and maybe the first pick at the coffee!
  • Dress to impress: Dress smartly to make a great first impression while staying true to your personal style.
  • Research attendees: Do a bit of detective work beforehand. Knowing who’s who can help you connect with the right people and spark more meaningful conversations.
  • Practice small talk: No one likes talking about work right away – especially in Canada. Small talk helps ease you into a genuine conversation. Read on to find out more about the art of small talk!
  • Prepare an elevator pitch: Have a short, snappy introduction ready. It’s your verbal business card – make it memorable! Read more about elevator pitches here!
  • Listen and engage: Be genuinely interested in what others have to say. Active listening can turn a casual chat into a valuable connection.
  • Bring marketing collateral: Arm yourself with eye-catching business cards or brochures. More below on the importance of business cards in Canada.
  • Keep a follow-up strategy ready: Have a plan for post-event connections. A quick LinkedIn message or an email can keep the conversation going.
  • Set goals: Networking challenges you to be comfortably uncomfortable. Challenge yourself to talk to new people, and you might be pleasantly surprised by the outcome. Aim for achievable targets, like identifying at least 3 potential clients or learning two new industry insights. It keeps the event focused and fun!

The Art of Small Talk in Canadian Networking

In Canada, it is common for people to ask you about your well-being. It’ll often start with a quick ‘How are you?’ responded with a ‘Fine, and you’. Not just people you know, it is even common for strangers to strike up small talk. I mean, it would be a really boring world, if all we did was get straight to talking shop. So, in the realm of business networking, let’s begin by understanding the art of small talk in Canada:

  1. Cultural Nuances: Politeness, modesty, and good manners are highly valued in Canada, and these traits could mean very simple things like:
  • Using words like; ‘Thank you’, ‘Please’ in conversation 
  • Making eye contact and smiling
  • Listening without interrupting
  • Avoiding using offensive language

2. Topics to avoid: It is generally advisable to steer clear of potentially sensitive or personal topics, particularly if you’re not familiar with the person. But what is considered sensitive or personal, can differ from culture to culture. So here’s our shortlist of topics that are definitely best to avoid in this setting:

  • Politics
  • Family
  • Personal issues like relationship or financial problems
  • Death or other tragic events
  • Money
  • Religion
  • Personal gossip
  • Appearance or age
  • Illness

Many of these topics, especially politics and religion, in initial meetings can be polarizing and may lead to discomfort or disagreement, which could easily hinder the establishment of a positive professional relationship.

3. Topics to discuss: Rest assured, we’re not just here to caution you with a list of don’ts. We’re also excited to share our list of engaging topics you can confidently converse about:

  • Weather: As mundane as this may sound, it’s commonplace to discuss current or upcoming weather in Canada! A simple comment such as, “It’s so cold today!” is an easy opening. 
  • Compliments: Offering a compliment about something they’re wearing or something they did (eg: a performance, a report, a talk, etc)
  • Their Day: Asking how their day is can show thoughtfulness
  • Sports and Events: Mentioning sports, especially if someone is wearing a team logo. Popular Canadian sports include hockey, basketball, and baseball.
  • Pop Culture and Entertainment: Discussing movies, music, and celebrities. Ask if they’ve seen a recent movie or their thoughts on it.
  • Food: Talking about types of food, particularly in restaurants. Asking about someone’s meal choice, like, “That looks delicious; what is it?”
  • Hobbies: Sharing your hobbies or asking about theirs, is a great way to connect without getting too personal.

Networking in French in Canada

English and French are both official languages of Canada. Around 22% of Canadians speak French as their first official language. In fact, the number of people predominantly speaking French at home is increasing in many provinces like Quebec, British Columbia, and Yukon. 

Something very critical to remember if you’re networking in these regions or with Canadians who speak French is that it’s not just a language for them – but a core component of their cultural identity. 

The significance of the French connection dates back to 1534, with Jacques Cartier’s voyages marking the beginning of French colonization in North America. The establishment of Quebec City by Samuel de Champlain in 1608 was a pivotal moment, laying the foundation for what would become New France, a vast territory stretching across the continent.

Canada’s ongoing efforts to uphold and celebrate French heritage underscores the country’s continuous dedication to preserving its bilingual heritage. With this in mind, here are some practical networking tips that can help you navigate the unique dynamics of interacting in French within Canada’s entrepreneurial landscape.

  1. Bilingual Business Materials: To network with bilingual Canadians, consider bilingual marketing collateral like business cards or website content.

2. Be Mindful of Accents: Canadian French can have unique accents and dialects. Be attentive and respectful, if you’re unsure about something said, politely ask for clarification.

3. Learn Key French Phrases: Even if you’re not fluent in French, learning key phrases can really show respect and effort, and go a long way in establishing rapport. Here’s a starter phrase list to get you going:

Greetings

  • “Bonjour” (Good morning/Hello)
  • “Bonsoir” (Good evening)
  • “Comment ça va?” (How are you?)

Thank-you

  • “Merci” (Thank you)
  • “Merci beaucoup” (Thank you very much)

Basic Business Terms

  • “Réunion” (Meeting)
  • “Affaires” (Business)
  • “Projet” (Project)

Concluding a Meeting or Conversation

  • “Au revoir” (Goodbye)
  • “À bientôt” (See you soon)
  • “Bonne journée” (Have a good day)
  • “Merci pour cette réunion” (Thank you for this meeting)

The Importance of Business Cards

Business cards may sound a little old-fashioned in 2024, but the truth is, they are still a fantastic marketing tool. Because of its tactile nature, handing over a physical card can actually make it more likely for someone you’ve met to remember you. To add to that, a creatively designed business card can multiply your chances even more by leaving a potentially lasting impact. Also, sometimes, the additional step of opening an app or scanning a code may just not be possible or convenient. 

Don’t forget to add in essential details including your name, title, company, phone number, email address, and website. To still maintain the tech-touch, you can include your LinkedIn profile or a QR code to your digital portfolio!

The Role of Social Media in Canadian Networking

You can continue to network with someone you met offline using social media, or start a brand new relationship! Either way, we all know how important social media is today in maintaining business networks and communities. 

LinkedIn still reigns as the premier platform for professional networking in Canada; it is widely used for connecting with industry peers, sharing expertise, and discovering job opportunities. Apart from LinkedIn, platforms like X and Facebook are often used for industry news and networking events. For more visually oriented fields like design or marketing, Instagram and Pinterest make more sense to showcase portfolios and creative work.

Canadian networking etiquette undoubtedly extends to their online etiquette too. It’s important to engage respectfully and constructively, whether you’re commenting on a post or sending a direct message. Definitely, avoid overly casual language and slang, especially when initiating contact. 

And finally, privacy and discretion should be highly respected; refrain from sharing confidential or sensitive information or asking for the same from others. 

In conclusion, we hope that with these tips and insights, you’re now equipped to dive into the world of Canadian networking with confidence and grace. Happy networking, and here’s to your entrepreneurial success in Canada!

Want to Start a Business in Canada?

We are BHive, a startup incubator located in Brampton, Ontario. We offer international startups the tools, resources, and space to establish – and quickly scale – their businesses in Canada and North America. To apply to our Global Entrepreneur Incubation Program, click here!