7 Networking Tips for Success
The phrase “painfully shy” was an accurate description of me as a child. I clung to my mom’s leg and refused to even talk to acquaintances. Asking me to give my order to a waiter was akin to torture.
So, how did I end up in one of the most you-have-to-talk-to-people careers that requires massive amounts of networking and conversation skills? Well, the longer story involves third grade plays (shout out to Ms. Diepenbrock!) and working on my confidence, but the short answer is the saying “Fake it ‘til you make it.” If you pretend to be confident and friendly, it really does work.
Here are seven tips for anyone who networks (whether you love it or loathe it) to maximize connections and future professional relationships:
- Talk to People You Don’t Know
It’s easy to stick to the people you came with, or hang around the people you already know at a networking event. Sure, it’s important to continue building existing relationships, but you can also do that one-on-one at another time. Think of networking events as the best opportunity to meet new people. Remember: Everyone is there to meet people too!
Networking Trick: Find a belly up table (those tall ones people stand around) with some extra space, and ask the people already at it, “Mind if I join you?” Then, introduce yourself to them and ask what brings them to the event. Keep the convo. going!
- Introduce Yourself to Seat Mates
But what if it’s more of a conference or presentation-style event with everyone seated in uninviting rows of chairs? Wherever you sit, introduce yourself to who you are sitting closest to as soon or shortly after you sit down. Gain eye contact, smile and put out your hand, “Hi, I’m X.” There are people that I’ve randomly met at conferences this way that I still keep in touch with or have turned into new business leads.
Networking Trick: Are you one of the first to arrive? Sit one or two seats from the end of the aisle toward the middle or back of the room. Someone will inevitably sit at the end of the aisle. When they do, gain eye contact, smile and introduce yourself.
- Let Others Do the Work for You
Do you know anyone at the event? Ask her to introduce you to other people she knows. Your friends/acquaintances will probably also have a good idea of who would be good for you to get to know better.
Don’t forget to return the favor! If you know more people at an event than your guest, introduce him to people who you think would make good connections or he would get along with. Don’t forget to set him up for success and to start a dialogue, e.g. “X, I wanted you to meet Y. Y, meet X. You both went to school back east!” Notice, you aren’t telling them which schools – this gives them something to ask each other initially.
Networking Trick: It’s tricky figuring out when to insert yourself into an existing conversation to say “hello” to someone you know. You can spend hours waiting. It never seems like the right moment. When I see a colleague in conversation with a group, I lightly put my hand on her upper back, ideally when she is not the one talking. She can then turn around, and I can say, “Didn’t mean to interrupt you, but wanted to say hello or XYZ!” This is also the perfect opportunity for your colleague to introduce you to the people she is already talking to and bring you into the conversation.
- Scan for Solos
We’ve all done it. We’re at an event alone and haven’t found anyone to connect with, or are too afraid to try. We glance furtively around the room, seeking someone that looks inviting. We fumble with our phone, acting like really important things are going on.
Whether you are this solo individual or not, always look around at events for other solos. Go up and introduce yourself and start chatting. He or she will be forever grateful, and it’s one of the easiest ways for you to meet someone new too.
Networking Trick: Scanning for solos also works when you are already engaged in a group and can bring a new person into the fold. Plus, it’s extra karma points. ;o)
- Make Good Conversation
“How are you?”
“Good. How are you?”
“Good. How’s work.”
“Yeah, so busy!”
*Twiddles thumbs.* This is a horrible conversation. It’s also not memorable, so whether you are meeting someone new or looking to further an existing connection, you aren’t making an impression. As marketers, we aren’t fans of the word “busy” in general, but if you must use it, always follow it up with a “busy with XXXXXXXX.”
Example: “Yeah, work is busy with events. Summer especially ramps up for us as the Bazaar del Mundo Shops in Old Town have a series of themed events where it brings in artists from all over to demonstrate and sell their crafts.” This is much more interesting and memorable, as well as entices further conversation.
Networking Trick: When you end a conversation, circle back with something that you talked about to show them that you were listening. It also helps you remember who they are, e.g. “Good luck on your rock climbing trip!” or “Let me know if you end up needing help setting up that KickStarter page!”
- Exchange Business Cards/Contact Info.
If there’s any reason why you might want to keep in touch with this person after you finish talking with them, ask for his business card or contact info. This can happen at any time during the conversation, or when it’s wrapping up. Just say: “Hey, do you have a business card?” Be sure to give him yours too.
Networking Trick: When you receive his biz card, review it and use it as a conversation topic. For example, you can say you like the design, or maybe you didn’t realize his office is in Mission Valley and you can ask him if he ever goes to Hazard Center, which happens to be a client of yours …
- Follow Up Post-Meet Up!
It’s pretty amazing to me how few people follow up after you’ve had long conversations with them. If you do follow up, you will make an impression. Ideally the day after, send a quick email to say that it was nice meeting them, follow up with anything you talked about (e.g. “Here’s a link to that video I mentioned …” or “Thanks for offering to connect me with your boss!”), briefly reference why you liked chatting with them and recommend staying in touch.
Networking Trick: In addition or sometimes instead of an email, I will ask to connect with the person on LinkedIn. This is usually for contacts that I particularly hope to build a relationship with. In general, online connections and groups can be more powerful than you think, so don’t underestimate them.
Now get out there and network!