Hitting it off with strangers can be difficult, especially at a professional event where it can all feel very forced. But, as you’ve heard time and time agin, networking is a big deal. You can read all the books on your industry you want, but you can’t obtain or maintain all the industry knowledge by yourself. People can offer different approaches, personal stories and advice. The more people you have genuine relationships with, the more opportunities you have in your social circle to learn and get better. That’s why networking is so essential.
Not everyone is a professional networker, but everyone can be with a little work. Here are some tips to get you started:
Dress to Impress.
This is vital. No one in a professional setting will gain a good first impression if your wardrobe doesn’t meet the standards of the event. You will be taken less seriously and will likely feel out of place if you’re more underdressed than the rest of the attendants.
You won’t have chemistry with everyone.
This applies to every type of relationship. There are some people you simply won’t click with, but that’s OKAY! There are 7 billion people in the world, you won’t get along with all of them. Don’t force a relationship that you don’t have to. Each of you likely has different needs and strategies and that’s just fine. Forcing a relationship can create unnecessary stress and friction.
Always network to give, not get.
Be genuine. No one likes fake relationships, and the most successful people can sniff out selfish intentions with ease. That’s why they’re successful. A good networking relationship is a two-way street—you help each other succeed. Any relationship where one member only benefits is toxic, and this is only magnified when one’s success is on the line.
Don’t forget about college.
Remember everyone you met during college? Most of them have degrees now and are successful in their field. Reconnect through social platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter and catch up. You already have an established relationship and ample amounts of conversation to talk about. See what they’ve learned since graduation. Share what you’ve learned. Don’t go in looking to add to your professional network, go in looking to reconnect with an old friend.
Expand through clients.
Your clients work with you because they trust you and your services. They’re more likely to boast about your skills with someone who trusts them as well. Let them help you.
Listening is vital for effective conversations and is especially vital in any relationship. Good listening skills will help you absorb advice from a contact, can help you discover their business’s needs and simply make for a great conversation.
Bring a team to networking events.
Attending a seminar with a work team eases everyone’s anxiety levels and brings every member’s connections into play. This only improves everyone’s likelihood of meeting someone new. Plus, your more experienced colleagues can help your younger staff adapt to these newer environments.
Show up to events early and leave late.
Whether you’re with a team or on your own, most of the best conversations occur before and after the sessions. Networking between sessions is sort of like speed dating, whereas networking before and afterward eases the time restrictions.
Many attendees go to a local establishment after the event. Take this time to invite another team to your post-seminar outings or go along with someone else’s when invited. Social establishments are more laid back than professional settings and you will likely get to know new people better than at the seminar.
Set networking goals.
I’m a decently social person, but I went through a rut in college. I wasn’t meeting the right kind of new people. Sure, I met new people at “weekend gatherings” but they weren’t individuals of substance.
It took a new years resolution, but I made it a goal to talk to one new person a day during classes. While this was a low goal, especially for college, it equated to 5 people a week, 20 a month. A few meaningful friendships came out of this, as well as a few awkward conversations, but both made me better. Similar goals can be applied to seminars.
Join an organization.
Local industry organizations are everywhere. From small ones to chapters of national associations. Find these and become a regular. People are more likely to start a conversation with a familiar face, even if you haven’t met. Constantly attending association events shows people that you’re serious, but also means you have knowledge from previous too.
Don’t take it too seriously.
At the end of the day, a bad day of networking isn’t big of a deal. You still have your job, current contacts, friends and family. You’ll do better next time. So don’t take it too seriously and remember to relax. After all, it’s fun making new friends!