Ben is a natural. He can walk into a room of strangers and engage in conversation with great ease. No matter the situation, the group of people, or the setting, Ben loves networking. Even when he knows no one in the room. His colleagues are envious. Junior associates consistently ask him to lunch or drinks, hoping to learn the secrets to his ability to network. It is easy for Ben. He enjoys it and is energized by the conversations and people.
It is not that way for everyone. If you are not like Ben, and networking events make you sweat, try the tips below to build your skills and comfort. These tips were created in collaboration with executive coach and Women’s Catalyst Network Partner, Evan Roth, for the Women in Cable and Telecommunications event.
1 –Focus on them, not you. Put your mental energy and focus on others, and away from you. When we focus on the critical voices in our heads, the discomfort grows and can reach the panic zone. Pay attention to the person you’re speaking to. Maintain eye contact. Everyone likes talking about themselves!
2 – Be curious. Ask questions you don’t know the answer to. Try to find common ground. Have a handful of questions in your back pocket to use regularly:
- Have you been to this event/conference/venue/city before?
- I see that you’re with [company name]. How long have you been there? What did you do before that?
- What did you think of the speaker/panel/program?
3 – Be yourself. Be authentic. Strategically authentic. Don’t fake it till you make it; people can see through that and don’t want to be around you.
4 – Break into a conversation by making eye contact. When you find yourself entering a networking meeting, a conference in a large hotel ballroom, and don’t see any familiar faces, it can be overwhelming. You can head to the bar and start a conversation with someone in line. Or find a small group of people and make eye contact and smile with one person in the group. She will typically invite you into the group and conversation.
5 – Have a wingperson. If you’re uncomfortable in a new setting or group, join a colleague who can introduce you to others. Similarly, introduce your colleague to someone for their mutual benefit, and then excuse yourself from the conversation. You can branch out and then rejoin together to share learning.
6 – Be realistic with expectations. You won’t meet everyone in the room, and that is OK. Relationship building takes time. It will serve you better to have 2 or 3 meaningful conversations, rather than many short conversations in which you don’t learn about the other person. Remember #1 – focus on them.
7 – Be a giver, not a taker. Your goal is to have meaningful conversations which allow you to build relationships. Where and how can you add value? Who can you introduce her to?
8 – Share a story, hear a story. People remember and relate to stories. Share something interesting and relevant about the work you do. They will not remember facts about your resume, but instead a story you share.
9 – Stay present. Don’t be distracted by others in the room. While you’re speaking with one person, focus on him. Don’t check your phone or smartwatch. If the conversation has run its course, make your polite exit.
10 – Smile! Project warmth and a caring persona. People are more interested and intrigued by those who are approachable. When are you engaging, you are more apt to have meaningful conversations.
11 – Execute follow-up plan. Follow-up is key and the most forgotten piece of networking. Create a plan in advance and follow it within 3 days after the event. Connect with your high priority new contacts on LinkedIn, and send a follow-up email that is personal and reminds the individual of your conversation. Set up a follow-up meeting or phone call.
Although you may not be just like Ben, you will become more comfortable with networking and find your way. Research 1 or 2 organizations that meet on a regular basis (monthly or bi-monthly) and become a regular at these events. You will see familiar faces which will make networking more comfortable. Most importantly, have fun with networking and remove the pressure by following the tips above. What is your secret to networking?