Ah, networking. When it comes to this essential business activity, people usually fall into one of two categories: either they thrive on the prospect of socializing with people for a number of hours, or they simply dread it. Either way, these quick tips should help you make the most out of your networking experience.
To ensure everything goes smoothly, you should prepare before the event. First thing’s first: your LinkedIn should be polished and updated. Regardless of your goal at the event, you should be ready in case you want to follow up with someone, or people decide to look you up. Make sure you have plenty of updated business cards as well. Have your elevator speech or personal brand pitch ready (for more info on creating a great pitch about yourself, click here.)
Next, spend some time thinking about your goals and agenda for the event. Forbes says to lose your personal agenda and set a goal to help as many people as possible while you’re there. Networking has moved away from a selfish activity and has become much more focused on helping others.
College Prep offers the idea of coming up with 2 or 3 topics beforehand to keep in your back pocket in case there is an awkward silence. Think of a few questions you can ask people to get them talking about themselves. Don’t forget to include a personal question as well. Building rapport is a major part of establishing a relationship.
Most importantly, relax and be yourself. It’s okay to be shy, you don’t need to try to be someone you’re not while networking. People can sense the insincerity. Don’t feel pressured to act a certain way.
During the Networking Event
Hopefully all of your careful preparation has helped you to relax now that the event is here. To start a conversation, here are a few helpful questions or statements you can use to approach someone:
1. “Have you been to one of these events before?” (This one being my favorite)
2. “I just have to say how much I love your [dress/skirt/shoes/etc.]. Where is it from?”
3. “So, what brought you here tonight?”
4. “Have you heard [name of speaker] before? What did you think?”
5. “Are you from the area or did you travel here tonight?”
6. “How did you get involved with [name of organization]”?
7. “Think they’re serving appetizers tonight? I have to admit, I’m starving!”
8. “How long have you been with [name of organization]?”
9. “Hi, I’m doing a poll—will you or won’t you buy the new Apple Watch?”
10. “What did you think of [name of speaker]”?
11. “What do you like to do for fun outside of work?”
12. “Where is the bar?”
13. “Do you know if they have a social media account I can tag?”
14. “Which cocktail did you order?”
15. “What do you do at [name of company]?”
16. “How did you get into [industry]?”
17. “Hi, I’m [name]. I just wanted to say I’m such a fan of your work.”
18. “Hi, I’m [name]. I just wanted to say I really enjoyed your speech.”
19. “Do you know if there are any good restaurants around here?”
20. “Do you happen to know the person here who organized tonight’s event? I’d just like to thank them.”
21. “Did you come here with a friend or are you flying solo like me?”
Once you start the conversation, things should start flowing pretty easily. While it’s absolutely true that people love to talk about themselves, be careful not to make your conversation feel like an interview. On the other hand, networking is not the time to sell. The point is to make conversation and share talking time 50/50.
Be creative and try to think of questions people don’t get too often. Use context clues to think of new ones.
Try to steer the conversation toward how you can help the person you’re talking to. It will leave both of you feeling great if you can add value to someone’s life. Work on actively listening, not just focusing on what you can say next. You’re brain works faster than you think, you don’t need to be preparing for what you’re going to say while you should be listening.
Keep in mind that sometimes, you just won’t click with someone. That’s perfectly fine! Just move on to the next person by politely excusing yourself.
Now that you’ve survived the event, follow up with everyone by adding them on LinkedIn. Make sure that when you add connections on LinkedIn, you use a personal message including something you two talked about. Take time to look at their profile and see if you can add value to their day. This could include sending a relevant article or sending an email introduction to someone you think they should meet.
Well, there you have it. A quick guide to networking. Stay tuned for the rest of our blogs coming up, which will all follow our monthly theme of Networking!