Well spring is again upon us and it appears that networking events seem to be picking up! It reminds me of when a friend of mine (who was then looking for a new job) decided to attend her first networking event. It was an after-hours social mixer that was bound to have a pretty robust attendance. “Any advice for a networking newbie?” she said. Here’s what I had to share, which are really in the form of mistakes to avoid:
Tip 1: Check negative emotions at the door; rather, bring a smile.
I will be the first to admit it: I have had plenty of times when I have had an event to attend (or worse, an audience to speak before) and, for any number of reasons, I just wasn’t up to it. We all have days when we feel that way–but there is no place for it when we are making first impressions. Further, that first impression is how we make others feel. Bad emotions and negativity are toxic. If you find yourself in this spot, before stepping in, stop. Take a deep breath, and offer a prayer of gratitude for the opportunity to meet new people (whose lives you just might be able to touch in a positive manner). Then smile, and carry your body language as you would if you were feeling positive and upbeat. You may be surprised on how this makes you feel.
Tip 2: Do not talk too much about yourself; instead, listen.
This is one of the most common mistakes we make–especially when we are nervous. When engaging others, don’t jump right in to your own elevator pitch. Rather, ask others about them and what what THEY do. When listening, repeat back what they told you in your own words, and get them to confirm your understanding of what they shared. This will make a strong emotional connection, because nothing beats the feeling of being understood.
Further, when that other person knows and feels that you both care and understand, they will be much more inclined to learn more about you and what you have to say.
Tip 3: Don’t focus on who can help you; rather, seek opportunities to help others.
Once you get accustomed to attending meetings you will quickly spot those who are “just in it for themselves.” These are the people who, when engaging in conversation, will quickly screen you and others out if they don’t see you as an “immediate sale.” If such a person screens you out, consider yourself fortunate.
Ultimately, we are all in it for ourselves in one way or another, but we also know that what goes around comes around. The purpose of getting people together to network is to make new friends and plant the seeds for long-term relationships. This happens when we listen, and in doing so we discover opportunities to build relationships by delivering value. An example of this might be hearing about another person’s issue or business goal, and passing on a helpful resource, or introducing them to another person who might help them reach their goal (if you cannot help them directly of course).
Tip 4: Focus on quality over quantity.
So often, networking newbies work a room and collect business cards. You don’t want to do this. Try to have a handful of decent discussions (without dominating one person’s time–after all they want to mix with others also). If you have a half a dozen good conversations and subsequent opportunities for follow up, then that’s a good night. My personal opinion is that business cards should get exchanged at the conclusion of a conversation, not at the beginning.
Tip 5: Follow Up.
It’s amazing how many people never follow up–which makes the whole effort rather pointless, does it not? My suggestion for new connections is generally to set a follow-up meeting right away if you both concurred that it would be mutually beneficial (which might not always be the case). If not, definitely send a follow up note card (either by keeping a stash handy that you can write up and send out quickly or using SendOutCards.com). Get connected on both LinkedIn and Facebook as well. Seek opportunities to stay on each other’s radars.
These are some of the fundamentals, especially for one who is new to networking. Do you know any “networking newbies?” If so, feel free to pass this article along. You may just turn what might have been an evening of anxiety and frustration into one of promise and success!