If you’re like most people, walking into a room of relative strangers—especially without a wingman (or wingwoman)—can be a daunting prospect. Whether scouting for your next job or widening your professional circle, it can take steely resolve to push yourself onto the networking stage and perform. Well, it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are some tried and true tips to help you become a more successful (and less stressed out) networker.
- Arrive early. Arriving early means that you can start up conversations before a throng makes it awkward.
- Light up the room. Remember to smile before entering the room. (Smiling makes you look approachable, so you may not have to work as hard at networking.)
- Make it about THEM, not you. Listen as much as (if not more than) you talk. Ask people why they’re attending the event and how you might be of help to them either in their career or personally. If you take a genuine interest in people, they WILL remember (and want to re-engage with) you.
- Be a willing student. Once you’ve offered to be of help to others, focus on learning from those you meet. (Often, networking events can be great learning experiences.)
- Think long-term. Try to create a relationship before you make an “ask” of any new contact. That’s the difference between networking and cold calling. (The best networking builds long-term relationships, not just immediate transactions.)
- Dress for success. Wear something interesting or memorable (e.g. an antique pin, a bright scarf or shirt, a thematic tie, colorful suspenders or shoes, etc.)
- Keep your eyes open. Watch and learn from expert networkers at every event. You will see them in the room; watch their techniques and learn valuable lessons.
- Channel Bogart. Done right, networking can become “the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” As with all beautiful friendships, staying in touch is key, so do follow up. (Social media makes this easy. Connect with the person on LinkedIn within a week after the event, customizing your invitation to include something about your conversation at the event you both attended.)
Special tips for introverts:
- Consider volunteering. If you’re going to be at an event, having a purpose makes networking easier. (If you volunteer at/organize the event, people will come to you.)
- Set an achievable goal. What gets measured gets done, so plan to talk to/give your card to a certain number of new people, then reward yourself in some way for meeting your goal.
Marianne O’Connor is the CEO of Sterling Communications. You can follow her on Twitter at @marianneoconnor.