The agenda at any number of conferences, professional dinners, or job fairs usually includes a set block of time for one major purpose: networking. Sometimes whole evenings are dedicated to nothing more than a predetermined networking event. Networking is a key tactic that most will say can make or break your experience in the professional world.
Networking is all about making a genuine connection with another person and being able to use that connection to help each other out if or when the time comes along.
I consider myself a natural at this process. I grew up learning from my mother, who could start up a conversation with a seemingly random person at the grocery store and eventually determine they are second cousins.
This may not be as easy for some. Networking can feel a little slimy at times, after all it’s mostly just talking to strangers. If you struggle at networking events and want to grow your skills as an expert networker, have no fear. Follow these nine steps and you’ll be working your way to the top in no time.
How to network at a networking event
Do your research
Prepare the right materials
Identify your targets
Find a way to help someone else
Stay genuine and honest
End the conversation
Diversify your experiences
Let’s dive in a little bit deeper and explore exactly how these steps can be implemented at any networking event.
How to network
Even for someone who is comfortable with networking, the idea of chatting up strangers can seem daunting. To grow your network, keep these nine steps in mind.
1. Do your research
Before attending any networking event you should have a clear idea of what the event is and the type of crowd that will be attending. This will help you have a clear picture of what is expected to happen You may even be able to find a guest list. People’s social media accounts are not off limits, so do some online hunting to see who you could be interacting with.
If you’re on the job market, are there going to be employees of companies you’d like to be hired at? Is there someone who has a position that you’d like to have someday that could be a mentor to you? What value could you provide to someone who wants to talk to you?
These are all important questions to consider before going to a networking event. This initial stage of preparation will help you feel more confident and comfortable when it comes time to make the first introduction.
2. Prepare the right materials
The best way to stand out in someone’s mind is to have some sort of tangible item to remember you by. Physical materials like business cards are great for this, but so many people have them and it could just get lost in a stack.
Take the extra step to create a business card that will stand out. Bring along a few copies of your updated resume in case you’d like someone to see it or pass it along. Along with these tangible items, make sure your LinkedIn or other social profiles are properly updated and reflect your current mission.
Additionally, it never hurts to have a good pen and a few breath mints.
3. Identify the situation
If networking isn’t your forte, the most triggering sentence you can hear at an event is, “Alright everyone let’s take a short break, feel free to network and chat with each other.”
Take a deep breath and observe the situation. Do you see people heading to grab a bottle of water? Is there a line for the bathroom? Was there a key point from a speaker that you really connected with? All of these situations can be used to break the ice and start a conversation with a person you’d like to talk to.
Take a look around the room and identify what’s going on. You’re likely to see a few small groups naturally emerge, maybe there are some people on the outskirts. Take in all this information and plan accordingly based on what you’re comfortable with.
4. Start small
Breaking the ice is a great first step, but you might be anxious over where the conversation could go from there. Some small talk about the event itself is one way to get over the initial awkwardness.
Don’t dive in to what your goals are right away. Find some common ground to make a genuine connection and grow from there. It’s OK if the discussion stalls or has some awkward pauses. It’s part of the nature of this type of situation. Push past it and work through to develop an authentic connection.
5. Find a way to help someone else
The worst thing you can do when networking is go into it selfishly. Any networking connection should be of mutual benefit. Consider what value you bring to the table and how you could be of help to someone else.
Maybe you’re a potential new employee or have a contact that others would like to get in touch with. Try to think about how you can help someone else and the resulting connection will likely prove beneficial for all parties.
6. Good vibes only
We often forget just how much we show our moods with our body language. If you’re hoping someone will come up and talk to you, keep a positive attitude and a happy face. More serious facial expressions like scowls (or R.B.F.) can turn people off from wanting to network with you.
Additionally, using people’s names regularly in conversation is psychologically proven to make people feel more comfortable. This will also double as a way for you to remember the name of the person you’re talking to.
7. End the conversation
A good networker can feel the expiration date on a conversation. Know when it’s time to walk away and move on to the next person. It may feel awkward to end the conversation, but there are a few ways you can exit without making things uncomfortable.
Offer to connect on LinkedIn or exchange business cards. Thank them for their time and the discussion and move along without a second thought.
8. Follow up
After the event is over, don’t let those connections fall wayside. Stay in contact with the people you networked with and recall the conversation you had. Refer to any notes you may have jotted down on the back of their business card. Explore how you can assist each other in accomplishing your goals and work on mutually beneficial solutions.
Even after reaching these goals, stay in touch. These professional relationships may come in handy later on whether you know it or not. You both could learn from each other and grow in your career.
9. Diversify your experiences
When reflecting on the networking event, consider what you did well, what could have gone better, and how you plan to improve in the future. A great way to become better at networking is to explore various opportunities outside your normal circles.
The best connections can sometimes be found in the most unexpected places. Go out of your comfort zone. Try new experiences and you could be surprised at the results!
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Putting the work in networking
Networking doesn’t have to be as scary as most people make it out to be. It can be an enriching experience when done right, and you’re bound to get more comfortable with it the more you do it.
After making that perfect connection, it may be time for an interview. Check out these common interview questions that you can expect to see during the interview process.