Networking events can be awkward. The setup itself isn’t the best – a room full of strangers who are all there to get something out of each other.
However, these events offer great value and opportunities when you network the right way. What can you do to get the most value out of any networking event you attend?
Be 100% clear on what you want to get out of the event.
Before you begin networking, you need to establish a goal. What exactly is that you hope to get from the event? You want to be very clear on this. The more specific the goal, the more success you’ll have at the event. If you’re job searching, are you looking for introductions, recommendations, coaching, or something else? If you’re networking for business, are you looking for new clients, potential partners, investors, or opportunities?
Answer these questions and then take it one step further and really define your goal. If you’re looking for introductions to a company, what kind of people can best help you with that? Who do you want to be introduced to? If you’re looking for investors, what kind of investment are you seeking? The more specific you can be, the better you’re able to ask for it.
Be specific in your ask.
Be direct when asking a question. Your question should clearly let the other person know what you’re looking for. Replace ‘It would be great if you could put me in touch with someone.’ with ‘Could you connect me with the hiring manager?’ By being direct with your question, there’s no chance the other person could misinterpret what you’re asking. You don’t want them to have to guess or leave anything up for interpretation. If they aren’t sure what you’re looking for, they aren’t likely to pass along your info to anyone.
Genuinely show interest in the people you talk to.
Nothing is worse than trying to network with someone who obviously just wants to give you their business card and move on. You can tell in their body language that they aren’t interested in who you are or what you do, they just want to be able to run through their pitch. Think about how you feel in this situation. Does it make you want to connect with them after the event? Probably not, so don’t be that person.
Make sure you actually learn something about the people you network with. This can be either personal or a professional detail. This is incredibly important because you’ll want to use this when reaching out after the event. Nothing starts to build a relationship quicker than an actual connection. By adding this detail to your follow up email, it will show the person that you actually cared about the conversation, and you’re not just sending out a form email to everyone you met that night.
Have a couple of icebreaker questions ready to go.
Starting a conversation is the hardest part of networking. Obviously, you’re all there to make new connections, so asking someone ‘what brings you out tonight?’ doesn’t start a great conversation. Instead, ask questions that will get the person talking. Ask them what their favorite part of their job is, or ask how many networking events they’ve been to that month. If you’re at an industry event, you can ask more specific questions. If it’s an event for developers, you can ask what someone’s favorite programming language is. If you’re new to the industry, ask them to tell you more about it. The point is to get started talking, because the conversation will flow after the first question has been asked.
Learn how to politely excuse yourself from a conversation.
We’ve all been stuck with an overly chatty person, and when that happens at a networking event, it can be quite problematic. You’re there to make multiple connections, not just one. When you find yourself in this situation, you need an exit strategy. A line that works well is: ‘That’s an interesting story. How about we continue this conversation after the event?’ Then you would exchange business cards and thank the person for their time. Another option is: ‘Wow, we’ve been chatting for a while now! We should continue, but for now, let’s make sure we meet some other people tonight.’
All of your networking efforts will be for nothing if you don’t follow up in a timely manner. Don’t wait for people to contact you. Ideally, you want to reach out within 48 hours so that you’re still fresh in people’s minds. Make sure to reach out to all of the new contacts you’ve made within a week at most.
Networking events might still be awkward, but follow these steps and you’ll be able to move beyond the awkward and turn it into opportunity.
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Written By: Ashira Prossack