Networking. It’s a word that strikes fear in many hearts. Some networkers just don’t know what to say, aren’t comfortable approaching strangers, or don’t know what to do with new contacts afterwards. With a little bit of planning and mindset shifting, though, you can really get over your fears and get the most out of your networking experiences.
There are 3 phases to networking: planning, executing and follow-up. If you think of these occasions in this way, you’ll get the most out of your experience and can achieve your desired goals: new job, new friends, new insights into your industry, finding a mentor, etc.
Before you go to a networking event, you should spend some time thinking about your goals. Why are you networking? Do you need to find new clients? A mentor? To be known in a certain field? Write these goals down and prioritize them.
Think about the sort of folks you want to meet. Then look for opportunities to meet them: where do they hang out? What events do they go to? You can see who’s going to certain events on MeetUps and Eventbrite listings. Alternatively, you can go to networking events hosted by the individuals you’d like to meet.
Work on your 30 second elevator pitch. You should a version for each of your target audiences. As Nick Morgan says in his white paper about elevator pitches, make sure they include: the word you, where you is the audience you’re speaking to, a need or problem the audience has, and an emotion. They should not be full of jargon, should be easy for new folks to digest and are linked to your personal brand tone.
Now that you know your networking goals, where you want to network and how you’ll want to talk about yourself, it’s time to start networking! Here are some things to keep in mind:
- It’s unusual for individuals to be comfortable at a networking event. They’re likely also hoping that someone will approach them. When you walk up to someone to say hello, you may in fact be making them more comfortable. Something to remember when you’re nervous: others are, too!
- Everyone at a networking event has a goal or a reason for being there.
- Most people like talking about themselves, not because they’re egotistical, but because it feels nice to be listened to.
- Much more often than not, people don’t want to meet new people who are drunk. Watch your drinking at networking events!
Possible questions you can use to break the ice:
- What did you think about the speaker?
- What brought you to today’s event?
- (Woman to woman) Wow, I really like your (insert clothing item here). Where did you get it?
- Was tonight’s topic related to your work? Follow up: How? I’d love to hear more.
Be sure to listen and ask thoughtful follow up questions based on what has been said. Reflect back what you’ve heard, ask follow up questions.
It’s generally better to get a conversation started before asking for a name. When you hear their name, repeat it out loud and think of someone or something visual to help you remember that name. Ask for business cards at the end. If you’re awful at linking business cards to individuals, take a picture of them with their business card in the frame. If you’ve forgotten someone’s name, bring someone else into the conversation. Say your name and say “I’ll let her/him introduce themselves.” with a big smile.
Also be careful about hogging up too much of someone’s time. Many individuals go to events to meet as many folks as possible. If people are looking around and not listening anymore, wrap up the conversation with a “So nice to meet you and I’ll be in touch. I bet you’d like to meet some more folks, too. Happy Networking!”
- For individuals you really want to network with more deeply, send them an email as soon as possible with a nice to meet them and a reference to someone you spoke about. Go ahead and ask to set up a meeting over coffee or a drink.
- Send out LinkedIn invites sooner rather than later. Make sure you’ve got your picture in your profile so they can remember you more easily.
- When you see something that someone you’d like a deeper relationship with could be interested in, like an article or an infographic, send it to them. It’ll keep you in their memory.
- Send thank you notes to event organizers you’ve met and want to network with more deeply. Setting up events is a lot of work!