Engaging with complete strangers at a luncheon, conference, or meeting can be a difficult task, even for the biggest extroverts. Whether you consider yourself a social butterfly or you shudder at the thought of talking to total strangers, the fact is, networking is a critical part of professional growth. It allows you to build connections with other professionals which can lead to a better reputation, increased visibility in your market, and improved business growth. So, what can you do to make the process easier? Here are a few helpful tips for mastering the art of networking.
1. Look for the Bar
Whether or not you prefer to drink, it can still be advantageous to position yourself at the bar. Many people make a beeline for the bar after dealing with a chaotic entrance. If you are seated at the edge, you can easily strike up a conversation with someone in a totally non-threatening environment. People actually feel more comfortable when they have a drink in hand, even if it’s not alcoholic. You are almost sure to find someone you can talk to at the bar.
2. Be Yourself
Networking events are supposed to be the foundation for creating new professional relationships. If you can’t be yourself, it’s like starting a relationship off with a lie. Don’t try to be the person you think others want you to be. Rather, be true to yourself and proud of who you are. People will appreciate your honesty and are more likely to connect with someone who is authentic.
3. Start with Non-Work Related Talk
Instead of jumping right into someone’s professional life, start by taking a little interest in their personal life. Start the conversation with something that is deliberately non-work related. This will allow you to find common ground with the other person and connect with them on a personal level. Eventually you will be able to steer the conversation back to work-related topics, but you will hopefully have bonded with the person and maybe even started a new friendship.
4. Don’t Spread Yourself Too Thin
It’s not necessary to attend every conference or event out there. Instead, choose only a few and attend these same events over and over. If you bounce around to too many events where no one knows you, you will have to start over every time introducing yourself and building a relationship. Networking is a lot more fun and comfortable when you’re a “regular.” People will recognize you and automatically start introducing you to new attendees.
5. Make Use of Business Cards
Business cards are a great resource to have on hand at a networking event. Tools like these can highlight your title, industries, geographic preferences, and provide pertinent contact information like a phone number, email address, and social media accounts. Think of it like a pocket-size resume that you can distribute at in-person events.
6. Do Not Work the Room
Contrary to popular belief, networking events are not successful when you try to meet as many people as possible. People can sense when you’re simply trying to pass out your business card and go. These short interactions are not memorable and therefore serve no purpose. Instead, focus on making just a few solid connections. Aim to meet just a few people and strike up a meaningful conversation.
7. Engage with People
If you really want to make a meaningful connection with someone, you need to engage with them. Maintain eye contact when the other person is speaking. Nod your head to show that you are interested and listening, and ask meaningful questions. These small actions go a long way toward building trust and rapport with your contacts.