Going to a networking event is a bit like going on a first date. You overthink your outfit choices, you rehearse what you’re gonna say while worrying about awkward pauses and clammy hands.
The good news is that first encounters like these can be practiced and become easier over time – at least the networking-related ones. With a little bit of experience, you will soon mingle and connect like a pro, and you might even get the job of your dreams out of it.
1. Ground rules
It should be self-explanatory, but it never hurts to repeat: Smile, be approachable and friendly but don’t over-share. Ask (open) questions, listen attentively, show genuine interest and impress with follow-up questions.
2. The early networker catches the contacts
Arriving fashionably late is usually the cool thing to do, but not when it comes to networking: Arriving early has the advantage that it will be less crowded, and you won’t have to interrupt people to start a conversation – networkers usually has ample time and energy to actually talk to each other.
3. Have a plan
Few people list networking as their favorite activity, so set yourself a goal – talk to 10 people or spend one hour at the event. Then reward yourself and up the ante next time.
4. Have business cards
Business cards are the currency of networking events – have them and trade them. If you want to go the extra mile, make business cards with a unique color, shape or witty content. However, don’t be funny just for fun’s sake or people might use them to remove food from their teeth.
5. Take note(s)
We like people who pay attention to what we’re saying. An easy trick to remember details, stories and anecdotes is to jot down some notes after you part ways with someone you want to follow up with – hobbies or passions are perfect ice breakers.
6. Follow up
Some daters follow the three-day rule, networkers need to follow the one-day rule: Follow-up within 24 hours (48 max). Emails are a quick way to do that – score some brownie points by referring to a story, article or an anecdote you discussed (and wrote down).
7. Get personal
Trying to catch someone’s attention in an email can be tricky- sometimes it’s easier to just meet in person. After successful initial contact, suggest a coffee date or a (business) lunch – just make sure the meeting has a purpose. Time is money after all.
8. Social media magic
Social media is your best networking friend: By looking at photos to remember faces or checking out resumes and portfolios, you can easily do research and connect before or after the event.
9. Be patient
Networking is about giving and receiving. It’s not just about you and your next career move – it’s also about paying it forward, helping others by introducing them to someone or doing them a favor.
10. Quality not quantity
One quality connection is more valuable than 20 superficial ones. However, you probably need 20 superficial ones to get to that one jewel. (Yes, just like dating.) So small-talk like it’s your job until it’s your time to shine.
11. Nurture the network
You small-talked, you collected an impressive pile of business cards and made some connections online. You might even have a coffee date set up. In theory, you could rest on your laurels, couldn’t you? Nope. The work just started. Now you got to nurture the network – check in with your contacts, send them holiday cards and make sure they don’t forget you – you never know when you need them.