Networking checklist

The textbook definition of networking is simply interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts. It’s a valuable exercise that can produce opportunities for productive collaboration and spark interesting new relationships. That’s the upside.

The downside is that networking can also produce a lot of anxiety. After all, the prospect of interacting with relative strangers and feeling pressed to make a good impression can be daunting. 

But whether scouting for new business or simply widening your professional circle, networking is worth the effort. A recent Forbes article cites some motivational statistics: networking is vital to the success of 78% of startups, and 85% of professionals say they develop a more meaning relationship after meeting someone in-person. 

networking tips
Sterling Account Director Dana Schroeder preparing to expand her professional network at a Gore Innovation Center event in Silicon Valley.

So get out there and mingle! For encouragement, here’s a checklist of tried-and-true tips to help you become a more successful (and less stressed) networker.

✔ Arrive early. Being among the first at a gathering allows you to start up conversations before the crush of a crowd.

✔ Accentuate the positive. Remember to smile before entering a room — it makes you appear approachable and feel more confident.

✔ Open your ears. Listen as much as (if not more than) you talk. Ask people why they’re attending the event and how you might be helpful. If you take a genuine interest in people, they tend to reciprocate.

✔ Be a willing student. Focus on learning from those you meet. Aim to discover something new instead of merely collecting or distributing business cards.

✔ Dress for success. Wear something interesting (an antique pin, a thematic tie, colorful suspenders or shoes, etc.). You don’t need to don a costume, but an intriguing accessory can serve as both a memorable identifier and a casual conversation starter.

✔ Observe. Watch and learn from expert networkers at events. You can always spot them and you may pick up some great techniques.

✔ Follow-up. If you exchange business cards or have a memorable chat, reach out to your new contact afterward. Customize an invitation to connect on LinkedIn within a week, and reference something about your conversation at the event.

✔ Think long-term. Focus on gathering information and building relationships instead of launching immediate transactions — networking shouldn’t feel like conducting (or receiving) a sales pitch.

If the idea of networking still feels foreboding, consider volunteering. Serving a purpose while being at an event makes interactions more comfortable and extends an open invitation for attendees to approach you.