Networking is hard work, regardless of who you are. Some love it; most dread it. While it can be a daunting experience, it’s also a great way to build partnerships, to find a job, and to grow your business – if done the right way. Stop fretting, and start preparing with these game-changing techniques for effective networking.
#1. Attend the right event.
While it may seem like a good idea to attend as many networking events as possible, it’s actually an ineffective strategy. Not to mention exhausting! Every event has a unique mission, a unique atmosphere, and a unique group of attendees, so it’s important to find the ones that best fit you and your goals. There’s nothing wrong with diversifying, but make sure you choose wisely and avoid wasting your time, or the time of others.
#2. Know who else is attending.
Before attending a networking event, try to get a copy of the attendance list. Because most events now collect RSVPs online, this is actually far easier than it used to be – often the RSVP list is shared publicly and instantly available. Knowing who is attending in advance and identifying the key people you want to talk to at the event will give you a huge advantage and save you time. A key person to reach out to is usually a “connector” – someone who is well networked and able to introduce you to the right people. Once you have identified the people you’re most interested in networking with, send them a message to let them know you would like to chat at the event – it gets your foot in the door and allows for an easy ice breaker when you meet in person.
#3. Clarify your objectives.
Setting goals for yourself before a networking event is a crucial step in the process, but often overlooked. Why are you intent on networking in the first place? Who do you want to meet? How many people do you need to connect with? What kind of information are you looking for? What kind of information do you need to share? Getting clear on your objectives and goals will not only affect which networking events you attend, but it also drives who you choose to network with, how you interact with them, what you ask others, and how you respond to questions.
#4. Come prepared.
Networking can feel overwhelming for even the most seasoned professionals. The best way to beat your nerves is to prepare for the event and to practice. Think about what others might ask you and formulate yours answers ahead of time. One of the most commonly asked question is, “What do you do?” Prepare a quick pitch that explains who you are and what you do, and practice it. Networking is a skill that feels easier with experience and exposure, so practice hard and practice often!
#5. Embrace the awkwardness.
Let’s face it, networking can feel extremely awkward. Embrace it! You’re not alone; everyone feels slightly uncomfortable when engaging with a group of strangers. The key is to avoid forcing connections. When approaching a group, respectfully listen and observe before jumping into the conversation. Use what you think you may have in common with others as an ice breaker, such as your hometown, your former/current employer, your alma mater, or something of theirs that you’ve read. Once you’re engaged in a group conversation, be sure to actively involve others and invite newcomers to the circle who might be eager for an opportunity to join – people appreciate other friendly people!
#6. Take genuine interest in others.
Networking is relationship-building on a small scale, and one of the essentials to relationship-building is to give as much as you take. If fulfilling your own interests and needs is what’s driving the conversation, the new relationship will feel like a transaction. Instead, think of it as a relationship bank account. When you first meet someone at a networking event, the balance is at zero. Before making a withdrawal, or making an ask of that person, the balance needs to be positive. Ask a question or two to get to know them. Take interest in their work and what they might be hoping to gain from the event. Think about how you might be able to be of service. Relationship building is a two-way street.
#7. Leverage your connections.
One of the most powerful tools you possess is your connections. Not only do they possess valuable untapped networks, but they have the power to network on your behalf. Rather than trying to sell yourself, ask your trusted first-tier connections (colleagues, friends, superiors) to recommend you to others. Before an event, see if anyone you know is well-acquainted with whom you are interested in networking. If so, have your connection introduce you to each other. In addition, your second-tier connections (contacts from conferences, events, projects) serve as a great springboard to get your foot in the door.
#8. Make an ask.
I believe that too many people hold back from asking for what they want out of fear, without realizing that the person they’re networking with – the person on the other end of the conversation – is human, too. Don’t be afraid to step up and put an ask out there! You may not get another opportunity; you have nothing to lose.
#9. Follow up accordingly.
It’s common for someone to meet 10-20 people at a networking event, especially if they are the type of person that everyone is desperately trying to connect with! This makes timely follow-up essential. Grab their business card and get back to them the following day. Reference the conversation from the day before and thank them for their time. Outline for them the next steps that you discussed the day before (i.e. “Thank you for offering to introduce me to Ms. Smith”) and ask if they need anything to do so. In addition, this is a great time to invest in the relationship, for example “Here’s a link to the article I was referencing last night that I thought you’d enjoy.” And if you don’t hear back quickly, don’t worry. People are busy. Just because they didn’t reply doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not interested – you may need to follow up several times. Don’t read into this or take it personally!
Have a networking tip or technique? Share it in the comments section below!