Everyone feels a little bit like a fish-out-of-water at their first networking event. There are new faces in a new place and everyone seems to already be getting along just fine. To overcome this, having a few networking tips in your back pocket can give you the confidence you need to be successful at your first networking.
Once you go to a few events and practice using these tips, they’ll become second nature and you won’t even have to think about them.
So, if you want to take the first steps to becoming a networking superstar, keep on reading!
Tip #1. Keep in mind: everyone has started where you are now
No matter how charismatic you are it’s natural to feel a little uncomfortable at your first networking event.
Everyone has been there.
Each person you see working a room like they were born to do so also started out where you are now; they’ve just had the opportunity to practice and attend more events than you have. Now, as a result, they have fine-tuned their networking “routine” and have become comfortable in applying it regularly.
Don’t worry; you’ll get there. Be patient.
Tip #2. Don’t be afraid to take the first step
The hardest part about networking is starting the conversation. Many people find it intimidating to walk up to a person or group of people to interrupt their conversation so that you can join it – especially when it’s your first time meeting them.
Don’t think of it that way.
Every person at any given networking event is there to meet people and broaden their network! You’re a person! You could be a new member of that person’s network!
Therefore, using that logic, every person at any given networking event is essentially there to meet you.
People associate much of their identity and self worth with their job title, but why?
Job titles can be vague and can often lead to the person with whom you’re speaking to create assumptions about you, your skills, and the work you do based upon their preconceived notions associated with your job title.
Instead of facilitating assumptions being made about the work that you do, make your role clear to that person by stating your one of your specialties.
For example, I might introduce myself using, “Hi, nice to meet you; my name is Kristine. I work for an Internet marketing company based in Columbia, MD and my specialty is online brand and reputation management.”
With this introduction, the person I’m speaking with has a clear understanding of what area it is that I specialize in. Now, if that person speaks to someone who has a need for online brand and reputation management, specifically, my name will pop into their head.
Tip #4. Always be willing to give something
The whole point of networking is to build mutually beneficial relationships. Doing something to better the person you’re networking with will aid in building the foundation of that relationship!
You know the saying, “You have to give a little to get a little”? Well, it’s true.
If you go into a networking event fully prepared to make yourself a resource for others, they will do the same for you.
If you focus on giving or teaching one thing in your 5-10 minute conversation with every person you talk to at an event, essentially leave them “wanting more,” you have successfully opened the door to start building a relationship beyond the initial introduction.
Tip #5. Know what you’re looking to gain
Have you ever heard of the Reciprocity Principle?
Well, even if you have I’m going to tell you what it is anyway.
The Reciprocity Principle states that people, in most situations, will reciprocate – or give you something back – if you give something to them. Whether it’s the name of a tool that solves a problem they’re having or making an introduction on their behalf to someone they’d like to meet, people appreciate these small tokens.
So much so, that they want to return the favor.
Tip #6. Be A Mensch
Mensch is a Yiddish word that basically means, “all around good person”, so when I say “Be a mensch” I just mean be genuine.
No one likes people who act one way in some scenarios and act another way in others. Similarly, no one likes a greedy person who is only looking out for themselves.
If you’re not networking to better yourself and others, you might want to reconsider networking at all.
Tip #7. Exit Gracefully
Just as entering the conversation is hard, exiting is too.
The goal of networking events is to have as many meaningful conversations with as many people as possible, so it’s a good rule of thumb to keep each conversation between 5 and 10 minutes.
Now, here’s the tricky part – some conversations don’t naturally end after 5-10 minutes, which is where it could get awkward.
So, if you find yourself in one of those types of conversations, you might try one of the following approaches:
1. Excuse yourself to go get a drink. If you do this though, there is a small chance that person might just follow you. If that happens, get your drink and try one of these other approaches.
2. Introduce that person to someone else in the room. You want to be able to say something about both parties while you’re introducing them to each other, so be sure that you know enough about each person to do so.
3. Excuse yourself to take care of something. If you do this, make sure you actually go through the motions. If you said you needed to speak with somebody you just saw, go speak with somebody. If it was to use the restroom, use the restroom. Nothing is more insulting to someone than finding out they were lied to so that you wouldn’t have to talk to them anymore – even if it is in the interest of being able to network more effectively.
Tip #8. End With The Future In Mind
If you’ve been following these tips, by the time you get to the end of an event, you will have given something to someone and, odds are, you have offered to follow up with them in some shape or form.
If this is the case, make it a point to follow through with whatever you committed to doing for that person.
Your actions speak to your character and if you don’t follow through with even something so small as sending an email, that portrays you as either forgetful or neglectful. Either way, it will leave that person with a bad taste in their mouth; no one wants to feel as though they’ve either been forgotten or just downright ignored.
After networking events, some people have an issue sorting out who was who, either because they talk with so many people at a single event or they just have horrible memories.
Whatever the case, if that is something you think could be an issue for you, there is a great networking tip so you can nip it in the bud. When you take a person’s business card at an event, after you’re done talking with that person, take a moment to jot down some notes, such as:
· What you committed to do – the most important thing, especially if it requires action from you. For example, “need to introduce Bob to Fred” or “send email tomorrow about the event next week.”
· What you talked about – this is extremely helpful when you’re crafting your follow up email to that person. For example, if the person you’re emailing mentioned during the event that they have two kids or that they’re getting ready for a 2-week vacation to Hawaii, you can bring that up in your email to add a personal tone. Saying things like “how are the kids” or “have a great time in Hawaii, it’s so beautiful,” show that you cared enough about the conversation you had with that person to remember those details.
· Something notable about their appearance – this will help you remember who was who as you review your cards the next day, which will allow your memories of your conversations and the event in general to be easier to recall.
I could probably ramble on and on for hours about networking tips and experiences I’ve had, but I’ll stop so you can start looking for some networking events in your area. It’s your turn to get out there and get some first-hand experience!
Good luck and happy networking!
Kristine Wilson is the Marketing Director for WebMechanix, an Internet Marketing firm based in Columbia, MD. She enjoys networking, social media, and helping companies thrive through integrated marketing strategies. Click here to follow Kristine on Twitter.