Networking does not come easily to everyone. The notion of mingling among a roomful of strangers makes most introverts feel distinctly uneasy. You may worry you are going to say something silly and embarrass yourself, or struggle to find something interesting to talk about.
This is all very natural—but unfortunately, networking is a fact of a life if you’re a professional.
Fortunately, even the shyest person can tip the odds in their favor with a few simple tips. Read on to learn how to shift your mindset about networking, present the best version of yourself, and make a great impression overall.
As with many things in life, failing to prepare prepares you for failure. The first step in networking is to research the event you’ll be attending. Figure out who will be there—and more importantly, figure out why you are attending. (If you don’t have a good answer to this, maybe it’s not worth your while!) Armed with this information, you can prepare a few talking points that are relevant to your audience.
Consummate networkers arrive at every event with at least a loose agenda, identifying what it is they want to accomplish before they arrive. For example, you may challenge yourself to collect 10 business cards, talk to 10 different people, or introduce yourself to a particular person you know is going to be there. Rather than trying to achieve someone else’s standard, your goals should be meaningful and achievable for you.
2. Be punctual.
Expert networkers arrive either early or on time, enabling them to meet people right away and network with other attendees as they arrive.
Unless the event is a casual, “drop in” style gathering, turning up late does not convey a very professional image. Tardiness is not only rude, but it also eats into the time you have to establish new contacts who could potentially prove valuable to you later on. Plus, if you’re constantly late, your reputation is impacted—you create the impression that you’re disorganized and difficult to work with.
3. Introduce yourself.
While waiting in the drinks queue, strike up a conversation with the person next to you, asking open-ended questions like:
- “What made you choose to come to this event?”
- “What was the highlight of the conference so far?”
- “What are you hoping to learn through this event?”
Depending on the size of the event, make an effort to introduce yourself to the event organizer, thanking them for the invitation and letting them know what you think. Remember, this person can help you by introducing you to others. Don’t monopolize their time, however.
4. Avoid handing out unsolicited business cards.
“Spamming” potential business connections with business cards is one of the fastest ways to alienate other people. If you have failed to build up sufficient rapport with another attendee for them to request a card from you, don’t offer one.
5. Concentrate on the quality of your connections rather than the quantity.
Contrary to popular belief, adept networkers don’t really “work the room.” Instead of flitting from one person to the next, trying to cram as many introductions as possible into a finite amount of time, you should focus instead on making a handful of solid connections.
If you are only speaking to someone so that you can offload your card and check them off a list, they are likely to pick up on this quickly, since it comes across as inauthentic. It is far more effective to cultivate a meaningful dialogue with a few other people, rather than a series of short, perfunctory interactions with several people.
6. Reframe your thinking.
If you’re very nervous about networking, it can be helpful to reframe your thinking about it. Rather than looking at it as a chore you must do to advance your career, think of it as an opportunity to meet interesting people and learn from them. Be curious about other people and their careers; asks questions, really listen, and focus on connecting with people who genuinely interest you.
In addition, many people approach networking solely from the perspective of “What can other people do for me?” or “Who in this room can help me get ahead?” While it’s good to be strategic, networking is as much about giving as it as about receiving. Think about how you can help other people, too.
In business, networking is an important component of professional success and career development. Fortunately for so many of us, networking isn’t an inborn talent! Even if you never learn to love it, with practice, you can become a better networker.