In addition to building an online community, in business, it is important to build your network in person as well. Despite being a relatively outgoing person, I have introverted tendencies and the thought of going to an event and striking up conversations with strangers used to make my stomach flip! This bothered me about myself, and I talked about it with a friend who felt similarly. We realized that our aversion to “networking” stemmed from a consistent desire to connect with others in a genuine manner.
Basically, I’d been thinking about networking all wrong. My objective for attending a networking event can’t be to schmooze with as many people and collect as many business cards as possible- that’s just not me. My goal for a seminar, mixer or other networking event is to try and find a way to make a genuine connection with other people. Sometimes that may be an instant professional bond, or it may be a friendly connection with the potential to turn into a business relationship later.
Here are some ideas, based on my own experience and counsel from others, on how to navigate the networking waters. These tips can be helpful in any situation where mingling is likely to occur.
- Give a compliment! Then, ask a follow-up question, and you’ve started a conversation!
- By the same token, when someone addresses you, try to offer more than just a response of a couple of words. Volley the conversation back with a little bit of extra information. (e.g.: “What a beautiful necklace.” “Thank you! I got it when I traveled to _______.”)
- Ask people about themselves. (“What brings you here today? How did you hear about this event?”) They will be grateful to you for breaking the ice!
- Try and find out in advance who will be at the event, and decide who you would most like to connect with.
- Join a professional organization or chamber of commerce. These organizations hold lots of mixers and networking events – great for practice! Sometimes they even have “connectors” on staff: you tell them who you want to meet, and they will introduce you at their next event!
- Eat before you go, so you can hold a drink in one hand and have the other hand free for handshakes and business card exchanges.
- Take a friend or colleague. It helps to have a familiar face there, and you can invite one another into conversations you are having. (Be careful not to use this person as a crutch to avoid meeting new people, though.)
- When you are introduced to someone, repeat their name back to them in a sentence to help you remember. Mnemonic devices can be helpful, too, if that’s your thing. (They saved me when studying for art history exams in college.)
- Offer to help at the event. This connects you to the event organizers, and having a task can help you break the ice and feel more comfortable. (I have found the registration table to be a great place to help out!)
- Don’t discount digital marketing! LinkedIn and online forums can be great places to connect with other professionals. I still believe there is no substitute for an in-person connection, however.
I hope there is something here that you’ve found helpful. What other tactics do you use to make networking more enjoyable and effective? Speak up in the comments! I would love to hear your ideas.