Building one’s connections is of paramount importance. Firstly, the practice will enable you to stay informed, be aware of the developments, and find/enhance professional opportunities.
While networking may prove nerve-wracking initially, it is important to observe it realistically. Novices often make the mistake of thinking that they need connections badly but are uncertain how to go about it, which makes the situation even more stressful. The thing is, networking is supposed to be mutually beneficial.
In that light, there are a couple of tips that will make you feel more comfortable and certainly more successful in your networking attempts. Let’s consider the most important.
1. Prepare in Advance
Many people know that first impressions can’t be undone, so they do their best to prepare their pitch in advance. However, a distinction should be made here between preparing and overdoing it. Certainly, you should be capable of successfully summarizing your skills and values, but providing an entire work history is not the way to go about it.
Your contacts should not feel like they are witnessing your rehearsal in front of a mirror, for one thing, and for another – the conversation should flow naturally. Rather, represent yourself in the best light, highlighting your notable qualities. This will both impress the listener and relieve stress for you.
Tip: If in doubt which points should be underlined, simply answer this question: why does your job matter?
2. Set Your Goals
Being natural and relaxed doesn’t mean you should have no strategy whatsoever. You should at least have a loose idea of what you are trying to accomplish. The easiest way to assess whether your networking efforts were successful afterward is by evaluating the goals you’d set initially.
Needless to say, the goals need to be realistic and by no means grandiose. For example, you may set a number of people to talk to within a period of time. Three or four people might be all you need, as going around serving your pitch to everyone in the room or the online conference will not only increase your stress levels but also present you as an aggressive salesperson rather than a business professional.
Finally, focus on quality. Pick the people you think might matter, but don’t expect a follow-up from everyone.
Tip: Bring more business cards than you think you’ll need with you if the event is in person. You don’t want to write down your contact info on a napkin, after all, and there’s no saying how many people might turn up.
3. Boost Your Confidence
Not surprisingly, many people are nervous when attending networking events or online webinars. There are a couple of tips that can help you overcome the issue, as people reporting that going through a mental checklist helps them. For example, remember the goals and be yourself.
The bottom line, even small talk is acceptable during networking events even though many people try to avoid it. We beg to differ! Even if it may seem like a waste of time, small talk actually helps people feel more relaxed.
Tip: Invite a friend to help you overcome the initial uneasiness.
4. View Networking as a Regular Conversation
Even if it may sound difficult to do this, networking is actually pretty similar to just any other conversation with people you don’t know. There are lots of greetings, some small talk, and bits and pieces of useful information.
If you are relaxed and behave like your usual self, you’ll actually come to like networking.
Tip: Focus on impressions rather than on the desired outcomes. Get people to like you first – you can boast later on!
5. So, What Do You Do?
This is the usual question during networking events – whether online or in person. Even though everyone expects it, anticipation is known to make people nervous. Because many people rehearse their pitches, they often miss the perfect opportunity for real organic connections.
Tip: The best answer to this typical question involves way more than just stating your profession. Try to explain what you do rather than just state your profession, as there are lots of biases linked to certain professions.
6. Listen Carefully and Don’t Speak Too Much
Remember your goals from the beginning? Stick to them throughout! Even if it may be tempting to boast of your professional achievements, this will often lead to awkwardness rather than to recognition.
Networking events gather people from different professions with different skill sets and qualities, so a reality check can’t hurt.
Tip: Networking events don’t serve one purpose only. While introducing yourself is a goal, it is still recommended to listen to others. This will show that you are actually interested in their opinions and accomplishments.
7. Meet New People
Back to the main issue – nervousness – many people tend to glue themselves to their acquaintances right from the start or to the only comment online when you are familiar with the speaker. Needless to say, this is a mistake, since you’re attending networking events and participating in webinars to meet new people and create novel opportunities.
If you are an introvert, a shy person, or generally bad at socializing, bring a friend with you (see above). This will give you the courage and support you need to approach other people.
Tip: Immediately set to meeting new people. This will help you stay focused on your goals without beating around the bush. Plus, you can always catch up with those you know after the fact.
8. Know Your Worth
Lastly, you should be aware of your own qualities. Boasting may be presumptuous, but there’s nothing wrong with presenting your skills as they should be presented.
This issue is actually rooted in psychology. If you say too little or appear too shy, people will misinterpret that for insecurity. If you speak too much, people will think you’re boasting. Overall, a fine balance is what is needed, but remember to listen more than you speak, nevertheless. As Aaron Burr says in Hamilton, “Talk less, smile more.”
Tip: Include in your pitch points about the qualities that set you above your competitors based on clients’ feedback. Again, don’t recite this; be relaxed and genuine, and present your findings.
Networking can be truly enjoyable once you get used to it. Even people who are normally shy can learn to enjoy themselves by balancing their approach and sticking to their goals. Eventually, follow-ups are bound to start arriving. From that point, you need to skillfully keep in touch with your contacts and deepen your relationship.
However, no matter what you do, you’ll need to get in the habit of attending networking events regularly – both online and eventually in-person again. This is pure statistics, really: the more people you meet, the greater the chance of a follow-up. Keep polishing your social skills and learning from your errors. In time, you will learn to truly enjoy networking for its own sake, rather than observing it merely as a means of building your contact list!
Note: At the time of the writing of this article, many regions are still under strict guidelines when it comes to conventions and in-person events. Many of these tips can be applied to online events, and we also need to be prepared when virtual events are no longer our only options.
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