Networking may seem like a greasy act of rubbing shoulders to make your way up in the world. If this is what you are doing at networking events, then yes – it will be exactly that. But you can, and should, break that mindset and approach networking in a new way.
Don’t network for the sake of boosting your business card collection – do it for actually creating value for yourself. Networking should be something you look forward to doing because you genuinely want to meet people you can learn from and grow with.
I have found that there are five principles that will make every networking event enjoyable and valuable.
1. BE PROFESSIONAL, BUT BE YOURSELF.
Don’t try to hide your personality. No one wants to be friends with a robot, much less work with one. A side-effect of being yourself is that others will do the same, and many will be attracted to you because of it.
This also means that if you do decide to work with someone you meet, you won’t have to put up a fake front. That can get tiring and stressful. Honesty begets honesty, and being truthful makes every aspect of life easier.
2. EAT LESS, TALK MORE.
I get it – networking events are great mostly because of the free food, not the forced social interaction. Jokes aside, if you’re going to eat dinner at a networking event, eat quickly and get it over with as soon as possible. Clear up your hands and your teeth so that you can get to meeting people without awkward plates and drinks in the way.
3. DO YOUR RESEARCH AND DON’T JUMP AROUND.
Research what kind of individuals might show up to this event. Is a specific organization hosting the event? Will certain people be there? Do your homework so you don’t feel lost as soon as you enter the room.
Jumping around from conversation to conversation without getting anything more than a business card can be a networking-killer. As soon as we think someone can’t help us out in our endeavors, our flight instinct kicks in, and we try to jump to the next crowd. Try not to do that. You could lose valuable connections because you brush them off too soon. Even if you don’t want to work with an individual, there is no telling if they could connect you to someone who could be your next mentor.
Unless a person has a personality that is completely abhorrent to you, only leave a conversation after properly excusing yourself and trading contact information if necessary.
4. ASK IMPORTANT QUESTIONS.
Don’t talk about the weather for more than a minute. These kinds of conversations should only be used as icebreakers if necessary. Everyone and their mother can talk about the weather. Prove that you can offer more than small talk.
Don’t ask them what they do – ask they why they do it. That question will reveal more about a person than any other. Spend most of your time listening. Give them your elevator pitch, and if they are genuinely interested in you then they will reciprocate both your questions and your attentiveness.
5. FOLLOW UP.
If you don’t follow up with the people you meet at networking events then you have wasted a good hour (or more) of your life. Following up can be as easy as sending a LinkedIn connection request stating that you met at X event and would like to keep up.
Keeping in touch should not be hard if you have followed the previous steps. Remember, you aren’t trying to get them to recognize your face. Your goal should be for them to remember you as the person who was genuinely interested in what they do.
When it comes to following up with these individuals, especially if it’s someone you aim to learn from, I highly recommend taking a look at T.K. Coleman’s post on what you should NOT do. His valuable advice could save you from embarrassing yourself when trying to reconnect.
It doesn’t matter if you talk to two dozen people or only one person. At the end of the night, networking is about the value of the relationships you have cultivated.