Networking. If you just shuddered at the word and the thought of it starts twisting your stomach, you are not alone. I am sure that I am not the only one that has signed up for an event with the best intentions of going and then as the day dragged on, developed dramatic plot twists to keep from going. Any excuse is better than having to forge awkward small talk with strangers, right? Wrong.
“Networking is marketing. Marketing yourself, marketing your uniqueness, marketing what you stand for.” Christine Comaford-Lynch
As awful as networking can be, it is one of those things that are EXTREMELY beneficial to your career. In a growing city like Denver, along with many other cities, it’s going to be all about who you know and less about what you know. Let’s face it, it is SO much easier to get a job when you know someone and it’s going to pretty darn tough to know anyone when you are hiding at home under your blankets.
So, go find an outfit that makes you feel fantastic, dust off those business cards, and follow these five tips to turn that next networking event into a productive, successful night out.
Preparation is the key
There are two things that I always do to prepare for a networking event. Research and practice. First, I research who will be at the event, making a list of a few people who I would like to meet that are with companies that I am interested in or are really interested in what they represent.
Next, I sit in front of a mirror (embarrassing, but it works) and practice what I am going to say. Practice what your pitch is, what questions you might ask, and how to ask for the connection. The more you do this, the easier it will make it.
Set yourself up for success
The beauty about networking is that it can be done anywhere. Online, offline, large cocktail hours, small learning situations, and more! Vanessa Van Edwards developed a book, Captivate, where she suggests making a list of potential networking environments. While the options are endless, examples can be a coffee shop, a bar, or a lunch and learn. Split up your list into three columns: survive, neutral, and thrive and say yes to the ones that are neutral or you thrive in. I always like to challenge others to get out of your comfort zone but still set yourself up for success in the beginning.
Remember that you are not alone
Out of the 100 or more people at the event, probably about 99 of them hates networking just like you. It’s okay to be nervous and sometimes it makes it easier to embrace the awkwardness. Crack a joke about the event to break the ice. Once the other person realizes that this is tough for you too, it will make the conversation a little easier.
If you are really feeling stressed out about going it alone, bring a friend that can help you be successful. Establish expectations up front, walk in together, grab a drink, and then divide and conquer. Having them as a home base will add comfort, but be sure not to use them as a crutch and not meet anyone new!
Prepare some rescue topics
Have a few topics of conversation to pull out in case you find yourself struggling to make conversations. I love to talk to people about the last book they read, or an interesting current event (try to stay away from religion and politics) that can liven up a dying conversation.
Know when to say goodbye
We’ve all been there. The conversation has died, and you are standing there in silence, sipping your drink and offering the polite awkward smile. This is time to move on! Easy ways to end a conversation is saying things like, “I think I am going to take another lap around the room” or “I am going to get another glass of wine” or my go-to is “It was so great meeting you, I think I want to continue meeting a few more people before the night is over but I would love to connect with you online if you have a card”. Whatever you feel comfortable with but don’t waste your evening in a stale conversation!
The more you practice networking, the easier it will get. I’m not saying that you will love it, but you will because to make some really cool connections and see the benefit of those relationships blossoming in no time. Don’t forget to nurture your new relationships. Just adding them on LinkedIn and forgetting about them is not okay. Take time to get to know your new connection and maybe, just maybe, they can lead you to your dream job!
“Pulling a good network together takes effort, sincerity and time.” Alan Collins