Networking. The very word sends shudders through me, and I’m an extrovert. I can only imagine what it does to those who are introverted or shy by nature.
The thing is, networking actually works. Awkward as some of these events are, the concept of being able to meet multiple business people at one time, in one place, for what might lead to mutually beneficial connections in the future, is brilliant.
Whether you’re an entrepreneur or someone in sales, an author or an artist, or perhaps you’re looking to find a new career, these organized “speed-dating” type events can be just the ticket to opening new doors and launching you toward future success. It just doesn’t always feel that way.
So, what are some things you can do to make the whole experience less awkward and more fulfilling?
Here are 7 suggestions to make networking less awkward:
- Choose wisely. Be selective about what events you attend. Not all networking events are equal. Take time to do some research and dig in a little as to who else might attend, where the event is being held, how big it will be, and so on. I once attended an event that I thought would fit my purposes and found myself in an exceedingly awkward place, at a terrible bar with two other participants who were truly only interested in hearing themselves talk. I couldn’t extricate myself fast enough.
- Decide why. Decide why you want to go in the first place and set a goal before you go. For example, decide how many connections you would like to make and aim for that number throughout the course of the event.
- Practice your openers. Before you get there, be sure to practice your “elevator pitch” and your opening lines or conversation starters to make networking less awkward. Use the fantastic communication tool of curiosity. Ask open-ended questions such as, “How did you get involved in what you’re doing now?” Or, “Tell me more about what you’re hoping to accomplish this year.” This takes the pressure off you and allows people to share and be heard. Listen well.
- Move around. Try not to hide by the bar or get stuck with the same people all evening. Remember your goal and don’t be afraid to say, “I’m really glad to have met you, and let’s be sure to follow up. I’m going to move around and meet some more people now, and you likely want to do the same. Have a great night.” Honesty works well.
- Bring your cards. You aren’t going to want to share your business card with everyone you meet but have them ready for those you do want to follow up with. Cards are a great way to get the person’s name down and, of course, to follow up with after.
- Smile a lot. Smiling opens you up to being approached and makes it easier to connect. If you can’t remember if you’ve met someone already (an awkward situation that happens to me sometimes) or if you can’t recall the person’s name, begin with, “Have I met you yet?” I find this line works really well and gives us both an out if we have met.
- Take notes. Have a pen handy and write a note on the back of cards of those you want to follow up with so that you can sort them later. Take a couple of moments at a table or in the corner to do that in between conversations or getting a drink or snack. It will save you time later. After the event, make more detailed notes so that you can devise a follow-up plan to actually connect with those you’re interested in. There isn’t much point in attending a networking event if you don’t follow up afterwards.
Those are my seven main suggestions for making networking a little smoother and more enjoyable. One last idea is to be sure to eat dinner first, as it’s definitely awkward to hold a plate of food; worry about stuff getting stuck in your teeth; balance a plate, cards, a drink, and shake hands; and move around the room without spilling something.
I eat a proper meal first and grab one or two finger-food bites here and there, sometimes as a good excuse to get out of a dull conversation or to move on to more people. (“I’m going to grab a bite, nice talking to you.”) And be wary of drinking too much at these events. You want to stick to your preset goals, meet several people, and make meaningful connections, which is all done more easily when you’re unclouded and razor sharp.
Here’s to your next networking event—may you make networking less awkward and much more beneficial to your future success.
Image Credit: Bigstockphoto.com
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