To some people—introverts especially—networking feels synonymous with asking for favors, but in today’s world, networking is a necessity. Maintaining a professional network leads to more business opportunities, industry knowledge, and an improved ability to innovate and achieve. Rather than thinking of networking as a series of insincere introductions, consider it a learning opportunity. Often a conversation or interaction generates a new idea or opportunity. If you enter a cocktail party with a focus on speaking with interesting people and boosting your knowledge and opportunities, the event will feel worthwhile and even fun. Here are eight tips to increase your comfort levels and future networking success.
- Choose an event of interest to you or in a convenient location. Check your local business papers, chambers, and networking groups for their upcoming events.
- Do your research. You can typically view an attendee list and discover the organizations at which the bulk of the guests are employed. By having a general understanding of each company and a few prepared talking points, you will gain the attention and interest of the other attendees who may prioritize speaking with you throughout the event.
- Form a group. It is often beneficial to attend networking events by yourself—you don’t have to worry about “sticking” with one friend and can more easily bridge conversations. Find another person standing by themselves. That attendee is usually waiting for someone and feeling uncomfortable. By approaching other single people, you will soon have the group others are looking to join!
- Choose areas that encourage conversation. The food line is a great place to strike up a conversation with other attendees—especially those who might appreciate the chance to alleviate awkward silences.
- Ask questions. Take the focus off yourself. Ask other attendees about their job roles, organizations, and goals. There will always be time to describe yourself and what you do. People remember those who ask questions, listen, remain present, and engage in information sharing.
- Connect and follow through. Exchanging business cards is still a great way to connect, but if these aren’t available, the only information necessary for digital connection is the name of the person and his or her company. Don’t worry about the length of time you’ll have to speak with them. Introduce yourself and ask questions that show interest in what they do. The follow-up is where true connections are made. Contact the individual and request a coffee or lunch meeting to speak further.
- Remain organized. Keep your purse, wallet, or briefcase organized so that you aren’t searching for your pen, phone, etc. This is especially helpful with business cards. Strong preparation and organization eliminates stress and leads to smooth and seamless introductions. Try keeping your personal cards in one pocket and the business cards received from new associates in the other.
- Be persistent. Try and try again. With a new focus on learning and familiarizing yourself with various organizations, you’ll gain confidence and a more positive perspective. The more networking events you attend, the more comfortable you will become, and the opportunities will feel more worthwhile.