It's all about who you know these days and that means... networking! Some people regard networking as synonymous with using people, but I think there is a way for networking to benefit you and your new connection, but you have to be prepared! Lately, I have been handing out business cards and making new contacts wherever I can; I'm asking friends for referrals and am even hosting my own shopping and networking event this week (you're invited!). I have to mentally prepare myself each time I go into a situation to connect with new people, so I put together a few tips that I follow to make the most out of every networking opportunity.
Set a Goal
It's unrealistic to tell yourself that you're going to attend a 4 hour networking event and meet 89 new contacts and become best friends with all of them. No. Sometimes I don't want to talk to people and that's ok, but in most networking situations speaking is necessary, so gear up! Set a realistic goal for yourself: maybe staying for 30 minutes and talking to 2 people is a huge win for you. Celebrate that! Having one meaningful conversation is more valuable than having 20 superficial conversations. If you have access to the guest list (thank you, Facebook), take a look before the event to see if there are a few people in particular who you want to connect with.
Ask for an Introduction
It might seem awkward, but asking for an introduction from a mutual friend is much more effective than just introducing yourself to a stranger. If you can, seek out the event host and request an introduction to the person you want to meet- you will automatically be received more favorably than if you approach someone alone. I love to introduce people and always try to include facts about the other person that can be used to start up a conversation or to find a common thread. If you are the introducer, do you best to give a quality intro and hopefully your friend or colleague will repay the favor.
Who has arrived at an event halfway through and been completely overwhelmed by the masses of people already connecting?! (me!) Instead of resorting to circling the food table to try to catch someone's attention, arrive early and benefit from the smaller amount of attendees to mingle with. Arriving early is also a great way to meet the event host if you don't already know them; odds are the host knows more people than you and could be helpful in providing a few introductions for you before it gets crowded.
Prepare Questions...and be ready to answer them!
Everyone knows you're there to "network," but why? Are you trying to get a new job, a new client, or are you new to the city? Asking new acquaintances what THEIR goals are for the event is a great place to start, but do you know what you'll say when they finish talking and ask "what about you?" Be ready to answer the basics! It's 100% true that people love to talk about themselves, so definitely be ready to listen, smile, and nod!
Practice Makes Perfect
Just like everything else in life, practicing your skill is the key to success, especially if your default personality isn't to talk to everyone in the room! Try to practice networking at least a few times per week: your work place lunchroom, kids' soccer game, and even the mall are great places to strike up conversation and practice. You might be surprised who you meet while you're just "practicing."
This is one of the most important factors of networking success or failure! Be sure to follow-up with your new connections within 48 hours of meeting; if you don't, you risk them forgetting you and wasting the precious time you spent networking. If they give you a business card, make notes on it while you're talking with them. Your conversation closer can easily be "Well, I made a note to ask John about that business opportunity and I'll email you tomorrow to followup..." or whatever works in the context of your conversation. Tell that person that you will follow up with them and then do it. There's nothing more disappointing that not receiving a follow up.
Remember to smile and try to have fun! Everyone else at the event is in the same position you are; stick to these tips and you'll be a networking pro in no time!