Let’s face it, networking is scary. For soon-to-be graduates such as myself, even the word “networking” seems intimidating. However, networking really is key to making your career possible. Rather than attending hundreds of events to make maybe a few connections, it’s better to be strategic about your networking. Taking a systematic approach to networking and using a plan will help ease the tension and result in more meaningful business relationships.
Here are a few tips to help make networking more enjoyable and effective:
1. Find the right events.
Use social media outlets to find new events through your friends and local venues.
- Facebook: Take an informal approach by joining a group or Facebook event.
- LinkedIn: These groups are associated with specific industries and often post events. This can offer insight into specific group members’ professional experiences and interests.
- Meetup: Use this site as a resource for finding groups in professional and non-professional contexts. Most of these groups meet regularly.
- Eventbrite: This site provides a simple, categorized search and map of local upcoming events.
2. Arrive prepared.
Create a long-term plan by choosing the events most likely to be attended by the types of people you are looking to connect with.
When you have an upcoming event, do some research beforehand. Look at previous events by the same host or organization to see what they have to offer. Check to see if a guest or sponsors list is available. Then, see if you share common connections with participants and request an introduction.
3. Actively understand other’s needs.
When you get to the event, be sure to an approachable demeanor. It is likely that everyone is experiencing the same anxiety as you and acting relaxed will make others around you feel more comfortable themselves.
Take the initiative to start a few conversations or join group discussions instead of waiting for others to come to you. Introduce yourself or casually ask: “How are you liking the event?” or “What do you do?” Listen carefully to the dialogue so that you can align what customers need with what you offer. At this point you may present a more targeted pitch.
When you do exchange contact information and business cards, quickly jot down some mental notes about your conversation to help with memory recall later.
4. Stick around for the aftermath.
As the event comes to a close, remember that you don’t necessarily need to leave right away, especially if things are going well.
If there is an after party, gather some of your new connections and go together. If there is a lunch session, ask permission to join someone’s table. If there is nothing planned, take action and invite people to continue the conversation over dinner or drinks.
Later that evening, connect with the people you have just met on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. That way, you’ll have multiple channels in which you can communicate.