Although I know it’s necessary, especially in a town like D.C., I absolutely loathe networking in the formal sense. I’m naturally shy and hate walking up to people I don’t know and talking to them. It’s just not that natural to me. I hate making small talk in general, and I don’t enjoy the fact that people are engaging in conversation for the sole purpose of trying to find out what someone can do for you and what you can do for someone else. I would prefer to just have a natural conversation in a more relaxed setting and if you find common ground with someone, you connect with them. However, that’s just not the way things always work. If you want to be successful, you have to be willing to go out and meet people so you can get your name out there and make those connections that can propel your career to the next level. It’s pretty much inevitable.
Over the years, I have become more and more comfortable with networking as I realize how important it is for my career and personal development. I especially learned a lot about networking skills in Business School. Below are a few tips that have helped me to become better at networking.
1. Set a Goal for the Number of Connections You Want to Make
When I set a tangible goal for myself, there is more of a chance that I will accomplish the task. I apply this rule to networking because it forces me to connect with people because I want to be able to say that I came, I saw, and I conquered. I usually try to set a goal between 2-3 people that I want to have a solid connection with. If I set the bar too high, I find that I don’t really get to know the person, which will make it less likely that I will stay in contact with them after the event.
2. Be Intentional In Who You Connect With (To An Extent)
I am a planner, so I like to do a little research before I attend networking events. Most of my research is spent figuring out who will be at the event to help me figure out with whom I want to connect. For many events like seminars, panels, and workshops, the speakers’ names and a short bio may be provided beforehand. If I am interested in speaking to any of them, I will make a point to introduce myself and engage in a short conversation with them.
I said you should be intentional to an extent, because you still want to leave some flexibility when you network while also making sure you hit your goals for connecting with certain people. You want to leave yourself open to connecting with people you aren’t familiar with because you never know who you might come across.
3. Remember that You Have Something to Offer
So many times, people go to networking events with the sole purpose of finding people that can help them without realizing that you could be of help to someone else. You shouldn’t go to events just to gather information. You should also sell yourself and let people know that you have a lot to bring to the table. You are awesome and unique! Own that! This is why you should develop an elevator speech – a short introduction that you would give to someone who could change your entire life if you say the right thing before they get to their floor.
A basic elevator speech consists of:
- School you attend/Where you work/Major Goal You are trying to achieve
- What interested you about the event
- Your objective for attending the event
Somewhere in your elevator speech, you should be sure to mention something unique or memorable about yourself. It doesn’t have to be something absolutely remarkable either. Most of the time, you can tell what would be a cool thing to mention by getting a feel from the others you are speaking with. For example, if I’m at an event in D.C. and everyone is from the area or the east coast, I’ll mention that I’m from Texas. Nothing spectacular, but I do get raised eyebrows from people since I’m so far from home. As you attend more events, you’ll get more comfortable with figuring out how to set yourself apart with ease.
4. Always Have Business Cards Handy
The most professional and easy way to share contact information with others is with a business card. Even if you don’t have a business or a job, you can still have business cards that provide your basic contact information. Depending on the setting, you may have different business cards. For example, I may be at an event in more official capacity as a government employee and have business cards with my office information on them. At another event, I may have cards with my personal information if I am networking for reasons other than work. Vistaprint.com has very good deals on business cards. I did a simple google search and found that they have 500 business cards as low as $1.99! Check them out here.
5. Follow Up!!!
Another point I am constantly working on and something that will really set you apart from most people is following up after you meet someone. There have been so many times I’ve collected tons of business cards at an event and they just sit in my bag, then I move them to the kitchen table “so I can go through them” and eventually they end up in this huge flower pot where I dump all of my business cards, never to be seen or used again. It is SO easy to send a short follow-up message to someone after you meet them and it goes a long the way. Here’s a sample follow-up message:
It was great meeting you at the Women’s Bar Association mixer last Thursday. I enjoyed hearing about your experience starting your own firm. As you may recall, I recently graduated from Howard Law and am interested in starting my own practice. I would love to hear more about your experience. Would you be available for coffee sometime next week? I look forward to it.
6. People Aren’t As Scary as You Think
In my experience, when I’ve had to walk up to complete strangers when I don’t know a soul at an event, it’s been OKAY. For the most part, people are nice and will talk to you. Every once in a while, you may meet someone who doesn’t really want to be bothered. If it happens, simply excuse your self, say “It was great meeting you,” and move on. It’s not the end of the world. I promise, you won’t die if you go up to someone. It’s sad, but sometimes I literally have to say to myself, “No matter what happens, you’ll live after.” Sometimes it gets to the point where you have to psych yourself out to muster up the courage to go out and speak to people. Sometimes, the thing you want the most is right outside your comfort zone, just waiting for you to take that first step.
7. Be Yourself
If you are naturally shy like me, it’s hard to not just watch everything go down and camp out near the free food and drinks. Unfortunately, there have been times when that is exactly what I did! When it comes to networking, being shy won’t get you far, but that doesn’t mean you have to totally change who you are! You must always remember to be your awesome, unique self! Staying true to yourself will serve you more than anything because that is the only way you will make meaningful relationships.
I hope these tips help you! They have definitely helped me “up” my networking game. Do you have any additional tips? Feel free to leave them in the comments below!