How to network -when it doesn't come naturally.
Networking events always make me edgy. But, I know that when you are looking for a job, or just trying to promote yourself, attending these types of events is important. Whenever I go to these events, I am always grateful for anyone who approaches me to make small talk. For me, at least, starting conversations with strangers always makes me feel anxious.
Incidentally, this is a common problem for many people. I was surprised to find out that there are many books devoted to helping people overcome their anxiety about networking. Several of them recommend that when you meet people, you should focus on how you can help them, rather than on how they can help you.
By taking this approach, it's easier to network with others and be friendly and supportive rather than feeling awkward and anxious.
Here are 6 simple steps to making networking easy:
- Practice, Practice, Practice – If talking to strangers is difficult for you, try practicing with everyone you meet throughout your day. Whenever you go to a store or run an errand, try to talk to the people you meet. It will feel uncomfortable at first, but with practice, it gets easier.
- If you don't know what to say to start a conversation – This is where I always have trouble. It isn't that I am particularly shy, it's just that most of the time, I don't know what to say. If you want to start a conversation, try this “never fail” line: “Hi. How are you today?”, then simply listen to the response. Even if you only have a few minutes, asking the question and connecting with the person by listening and making eye contact will help you make a genuine connection.
- Look for people who are standing alone – Sometimes at networking events, it can seem that everyone is there in large groups. Approaching a group is considerably more intimidating that approaching an individual. Instead, look for people who are standing alone or who look as nervous as you feel. Strike up a conversation with them. Trust me, they will probably be grateful that you did.
- Ask them why they came to this event – Asking open ended questions is the best way to get someone to talk about themselves. Sometimes you might find out that they are representing a company you are interested in, or they came with a group of other professionals or you may even find out that there are other things worth seeing at the event. Whatever the case, once you get them talking, you can find many things to ask them more questions about.
- Ask for contact information – If you have had a nice conversation with someone, always ask them for their business card. Once they have given it to you, it's probably a good idea to jot down a few notes about the conversation on the back of the card. This way, you will remember who they are after the event.
- Follow up with people after the event – After the event, go through the business cards you received and send a follow up email or a social networking invitation. Make sure you send a personal note mentioning something you talked about at the event. This way, they will be sure to connect your name to your face and the conversation. This is why jotting down notes on the business card is so important. Follow up with everyone you met, even if you don't think that they have potential to be an important contact. You never know who someone knows or when you might need their help in the future.
Networking is uncomfortable and can cause anxiety for a lot of people. However, it really is a great way to expand your contacts and get to know other people in your industry and in your area. Especially when you are looking for a job, it is the best way to find out about the latest happenings in your field and find out about job openings.
Do you enjoy networking events? What are your secrets to success? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
By Melissa Kennedy- Melissa is a 9 year blog veteran and a freelance writer for LogisticsJobsiteBlog, along with helping others find the job of their dreams, she enjoys computer geekery, raising a teenager, supporting her local library, writing about herself in the third person and working on her next novel.