Attending a networking event can be completely nerve-wracking to some. Imagine walking into a room on your own, staring at a sea of faces, and knowing that you are on a mission to connect with others. What a challenge to overcome! However, making personal connections has become even more critical as online social networking becomes the norm. Why is it so key? Networking is about meeting people, sharing who you are and what you do, and gaining some valuable contacts and information that you can use for your benefit. Whether it is for job searching, to build brand awareness, or even for career advancement, networking seems to be the bridge to make it all happen. It takes time, preparation, and practice to make the most of it. Here is a strategy to help get you started:
1. Know your objective. – After adding the event to your calendar, do some research and self-reflection. This will be helpful in planning your approach. Ask yourself the following questions to develop a clear purpose:
a. What is the event?
b. Why are you attending?
c. Who will be there?
d. What would you like to learn?
e. Who should you connect with?
Once you have your mission in place, then you should prepare a few questions to start a conversation like, “How did you get started in your career?” or “What are you passionate about?” Also, think about what you would like to share about yourself to engage in the conversation. Create a 60 second elevator pitch about yourself. Rehearse it and be prepared to share it with those you connect with.
2. Gather your essentials. – Make sure to take plenty of business cards and your nametag with you. You only have one chance to make a great first impression. Also, consider wearing your nametag on the right side, as people often extend their right hand to greet someone with a handshake, and the eye is drawn to follow the arm toward the nametag.
3. Invite a colleague. – Consider going to the event with a co-worker or friend. This will make the experience less intimidating and you will have someone to sit with during breaks. If you have to go alone, look for an opportunity to make another person feel more comfortable. Perhaps, sit down at a table where there is just one person and begin a conversation. This will create an opportunity for you to make a connection and help someone else. You can start the conversation by saying, “Have you been to this before?”
4. Smile and look confident. – It can be scary to go and initiate a conversation with someone that you have never met. Rest assured that you do not always have to take the first step. Relax, smile, and look as warm and as casual as you can, and others will notice. Make sure to wear something that is professional and makes you feel good. This will help you exude confidence in an uncomfortable setting.
5. Be present. – Remember to truly listen, be sincere, and be an active participant in the conversation. This will give you an opportunity to connect with others and inspire next steps. Develop yourself to become a better listener. This will help you invoke more relevant content to a conversation.
6. Challenge yourself. – For every event that you attend, set a goal to speak with two people that you know and two people that you do not. They can even include the host or guest speaker. Your initiative will help build your confidence, as well as your network. If you think connecting with two people is a little too aggressive at first, start with one. As you attend more functions, this will become second nature to you.
7. Follow up. – Send a personalized email letting each person you met know you enjoyed meeting him or her, and mention the topic of your conversation. Also, consider sending them a LinkedIn invite soon after to secure the connection.
Although being successful at networking takes preparation and practice, it will benefit you and your career in the end. Make sure you make the most out of it by being prepared for the event, professional once you get there, and proactive with your follow-up! Then relax, have some fun, and make meaningful connections!
Written by Melanie Rebottini
Content adapted from Networking 101 presented by Michael Corbit, Assistant Vice President, Business Services at CareerSource Palm Beach County.