Are you getting ready to attend your first networking event? Or perhaps you’re reflecting on a recent networking situation that didn’t go well – maybe you didn’t make talk to many people, avoided eye contact or even stayed away from the group. Maybe you’re wondering if networking isn’t for you, or is simply a waste of time.
The truth is, when done correctly, networking is an incredibly useful tool to get to know professionals in your industry and strengthen your professional circle.
In this article, we will share practical advice from our experienced professional networking coaches. Learning the following strategies and tools for effective networking during events and seminars will pay off in your career.
Strategy I: Start on the Right Foot
Introducing yourself can be considered a reasonable first step in networking situations. However, it might be an awkward situation if you have not planned well for it. When you walk into a room or up to a group of people, a good icebreaker is to simply ask, “Hi, do you mind if I join you?” Almost 100% of the time, you will be welcome to join the group, and they will likely ask who you are and what you do. At that point, you can use your 30-seconds intro that you prepared and rehearsed before the networking event.
Strategy II: Be Friendly
This is another obvious and simple tip that can provide very positive effects. Many professionals jump to the business aspects of the conversation without sharing something personal about themselves or without showing interest in others. Asking questions without looking as if you are interrogating others is an effective way to build a friendly rapport. Make sure you truly listen to what the other person is saying and you might find good opportunities to share something about yourself as well. For example, if the person you are talking with works in the food industry business, and it happens that you have some experience or education in the field, you can reply with a relevant experience to make a connection.
Strategy III: Find the Loners
Another great strategy to find your own crowd in a large networking group is to find those who are standing by themselves and join them. In many cases, you will not be the only person who feels intimidated at networking events, so reaching out to others who may feel the same to start your own small group may work well for all parties involved. You can then ask if your new companion would like to join with another small group. This will help you both increase the exposure to other people in the event and widen your circles, while not having to join larger groups alone.
Strategy IV: Look Beyond the Business Card
Keep in mind that while you attend networking events to widen your professional circle, you are not there to spam people with your business card. Yes, you should have a card to hand to those you make beneficial connection to regarding your career, but you have to be tactful doing so.
Give your card only to those who ask for it, as they might have a real interest in you and what you do. If someone does not ask for your business card, it might be an indication that your qualifications and experience has no room or potential benefit in their professional life.
Finally, to be a successful networker, you need to set your expectations for each networking event you attend. Ask yourself, why you should attend the event, who will be there, how you will present yourself, and what you expected the outcome of attending the event to be. The more specific your expectations, the more you will get out of networking.