As you’ve probably gathered, networking is much more than showing up, grabbing some food and passing out business cards. It’s about meeting people, sharing who you are and what you do, and gaining some valuable contacts and information that you can use.
1. Have a Goal
Before you get to the event, ask yourself, “why am I going?” Come up with two outcomes you hope to get out of the event—say, meeting three new people or getting one new lead. (Or, if you’re going to reconnect with friends, that’s fine, too!) Knowing ahead of time what you’re hoping to accomplish will help you stay focused.
2. Dress to Impress
When you’re planning your outfit, pick something professional you won’t make an impression (at least, not a good one) if you look untidy, disorganised, or overly casual. But also pick something that makes you feel good the boost in confidence can help what can be an uncomfortable setting.
3. Bring Business Cards
This one seems basic, but people often forget their cards or say, “I just gave away my last one!” Bring more business cards than you think you’ll need and keep a stack of them in a card case. This way, they will not get dirty or crumpled and you can grab them quickly. It’s a lot more professional to pull your card out of a case then go searching through your bag.
4. Make an Effective Introduction
When you meet someone new, introduce yourself make eye contact, smile, start with your name, and giving a firm but brief handshake. Then, listen for the other person’s name (believe me, it’s easy to miss when you’re nervous), then use it at least two times while you’re speaking. This will not only help you remember their name, but also appear sincere and interested in the conversation.
5. Listen First, then Speak
Here’s a networking secret: Let the other person speak first! Most people don’t realise this, but the person who talks about themselves first is only being half listened to. If your counterpart is preoccupied with what they are going to say when it’s their turn to speak, they will only be partially tuning in to what you’re saying. But by asking the other person questions first, they will be much more relaxed and focused when the conversation turns to you.
6. Show Sincerity and Interest
Have a few good questions in your back pocket. Asking the other person about their background and work will show that you are interested in more than just your own opportunities.
The best questions are ones that can’t be answered by just “yes” or “no,” such as:
- How do you like working for your company?
- What is your primary role within your company?
- What projects are you working on right now?
- How did you get involved in your field?
7. Get to the Point
When it is your turn to share what you do, keep it short and state it in just 2-3 sentences. You can delve into greater detail later, but people will lose interest very quickly if you can’t cut to the chase. Similarly, avoid using industry jargon. The key to effectively networking is to build rapport, so if someone can’t understand what you’re talking about, a connection won’t happen.
8. Take Notes
You probably will not remember the important details of every conversation, so it can be helpful to write them down. After mingling with a few people, find a corner of the room to subtly make notes on each person, what you talked about, and any follow-up you want to do. Remember, the purpose of a networking event is to connect with people in the future, and this will make following up with them much, much easier.
9. Follow Up
A few days after the event, send follow-up emails to anyone you met that you would like to continue networking with. Make sure to personalise each email, letting each person know you enjoyed meeting them and mentioning something that you talked about.
tip: One of the quickest ways to stop a connection is to send someone a generic LinkedIn invite.
This is also the time to suggest any follow-ups, for example, to ask your new contact to meet up.
Networking is one of the greatest tools you have, and by being prepared for the event, professional once you get there, and proactive with your follow-up, you can make sure you get the most out of it. Beyond that, just try to relax and have some fun!