Many of us dread introducing ourselves and engaging in small talk with a room full of strangers, some people are struck with major anxiety just thinking about attending a networking event. However, networking goes hand in hand with running a successful business and often is a component of any career. If networking is an important part of our professional lives, navigating best practices and learning to thrive (not just survive!) on the networking front is vital to success.
- Be Selective. There are hundreds of networking events and opportunities each month. Identify and act on the highest-value opportunities rather attempting to be at each one and pitching to every possible audience. Narrowing down events and even the type and amount of people you have exchanges with will allow greater focus and enable your to nurture strategic relationships.
- Be Prepared. Good networking requires you to balance a methodical approach with the ability to not take yourself too seriously. Carefully plan the events you’ll attend each month, define your purpose, and think through the simplest way to describe yourself and your business. Create a mental list of recent projects or new products or services you could discuss.
Resist the urge to arrive late to the event. By being a first attendee, you’ll notice it’s calmer and quieter, and people haven’t settled into groups yet. It is typically much easier to find people who don’t have conversation partners yet. First impressions are often not only important, but the only chance you have in a social or business networking situation to make any impression. Dress well, speak with clarity, and relax.
- Be a Conversationalist, Not a Talker. Don’t be “That guy” who is known for solely talking about himself and out for his own gain. Some people who don’t care for networking may overcompensate by commandeering the discussion. Not only is that boring to others, people are more likely to avoid you at subsequent events. The most successful networkers are great at making other people feel special and important. Look folks in the eye, repeat their name, listen to what they have to say, and suggest topics and ask questions that are easy to discuss. By strategically limiting how much you speak, you increase your chances to listen and to interact with others- making a much more enjoyable networking experience for everyone.
- It’s About Relationships. Keep your exchanges fun, light and informal- you don’t need to do the hard sell within minutes of meeting a person. People are more apt to do business with people whose company they enjoy. By curbing your spiel, you open the door for true connection to happen.
And while the ultimate goal may be to find investors or customers, you are also in a place to help others. Giving first of your available resources-whether its advice, support, connections, or partnerships- puts you in a favorable and trustworthy position, adding value to the business network.
- Don’t Leave Without a Second Date. If you have a great exchange with someone, ask what the best way to stay in touch would be. Keep your business card in your pocket until after talking with someone for a bit of time or right before you disengage with them. Giving out your contact info right off the bat isn’t very becoming, and can make your meeting seem inauthentic and sales-y. Getting in touch within 48 hours of the events shows that you’re interested and available. Often referencing something you discussed is helpful so your contact remembers you.
- Smile & Stop Thinking So Much. It’s simple. By smiling, you’ll put your nerves at ease, and come across as warm and inviting to others. Don’t let your mind dwell on the purpose or mechanics of networking- there isn’t an exact formula. Be assertive and kind, maintaining a casual and friendly demeanor. It will create a relaxed and pleasant air about you, which will differentiate you from the crows and increase your potential for success.
Happy networking y’all!