Everywhere you look, somebody's talking about networking – how great it is, why you need to do it, how you should do it, etc. There are books about it, blogs about it, articles about it (psst – you're reading one). It's all over the place.
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Why? Because it works!
If you're new to networking, I have some great news for you: It's actually very easy. We make it hard for ourselves because we attach too much to it. If you're not new to networking, but you've basically given up on it because it's not "working," fear not: There's still something in it for you.
Here's what I mean: If you expect a certain outcome from networking and it doesn't happen, you may wind up disappointed or upset. A lot of people go to networking events hoping to meet someone who will become a client, partner with them in business, offer them a job, or join their company as the next superstar employee. While I'm not saying these things can't happen, the truth is that, more often than not, they don't.
What if, instead, you set a networking expectation that was guaranteed to happen? Pretty cool, huh? Set the expectation to just meet someone. That's it. That's guaranteed! Anything else that comes out of it is a bonus.
To get the most out of your experience and strengthen the net of your network, here are some tips on what to do before, during, and after:
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1. Research the Event
Whether you've been invited or plan to attend an open event, learn something about it. Is there a theme or a focus? Who is the host? Is this a regularly scheduled event? A little homework can go a long way (more about that later).
2. Practice Your 'Elevator Speech'
You will eventually be asked, "So, what do you do?" Knowing how to answer that question ahead of time can help to greatly reduce whatever angst you may feel in the moment.
Sounds like a crazy tip, but you're not going to the event to eat (unless it's a dinner). Sometimes, light hors d'oeuvres may be served. Don't do it! It's a bit awkward to have a mouth full of food when someone walks up to you. Better to just eat beforehand and not worry about food at the event.
A genuine smile is contagious. It also releases endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine. These are natural relaxers and also help to lower blood pressure. Seriously!
5. Make Eye Contact and Repeat the Person's Name
Let the person you're talking (or listening) to know they have your attention. This also gives you a "smile target."
Repeat the person's name a few times throughout the conversation. Not only will it help you remember their name, it will also send the message that you're focused on them. (Example: Wow Erica, thanks – that's good to remember; Well Erica, this is my first time coming to this event.)
6. Meet the Host (If Possible)
Normally, the individual(s) responsible for the event will be there. At some point, thank them for hosting. It's not unusual for them to introduce you to someone who could potentially become a part of your network; maybe even they themselves will become valuable contacts!
7. Remember Your Business Cards
There's nothing worse than having to tell someone who asks for your card that you ran out or left them at home.
To be clear, it's not necessary to exchange cards with everyone you meet. Sometimes there's no interest – and that's okay. Still, exchanging cards is one of the best ways to keep up with who you met.
Note: There are several schools of thought regarding business cards; this is merely a suggestion.
8. Suggest Connecting on LinkedIn
LinkedIn is the most widely recognized professional social media platform. At some point during any networking conversation, you should try to extend a soft invitation to connect on LinkedIn. (Example: "If you're on LinkedIn, I'd appreciate connecting with you.")
Don't have a LinkedIn profile? Create one!
9. Make Notes About Who You Met
You never know what can happen in the future. Any conversation that comes up in the days/weeks to come will be far richer if you are able to refer to your earlier discussion. Evidence of your homework!
10. Follow Up!
It's wise to follow up with the folks with whom you exchanged cards. Reaching out via email a day or so after the event will keep you fresh in their mind.
Often, the agreement to follow up may take place during the event. If so, schedule the actual follow up then. Afterward, be sure to check out the person's website, learn something about their business, etc. When you follow up, let them know what you liked about their site. It may even jog your memory about a referral for their business. This definitely shows you've done your – you guessed it – homework!
Setting the expectation to simply meet people while you're networking should ease the angst many of us feel about this activity. Go. Smile. Be yourself. Networking can and should be fun. If it's not, you won't enjoy it. Following these 10 tips will put you in a much better position and prepare you for a great event. So get out there and strengthen the net of your network!
Reginald Jackson is an executive and leadership coach and the founder of Joyful Satisfaction Coaching.