Have you ever been in a room full of people and felt all alone because you didn’t know how to reach out and meet anyone? It can happen to any planner at any age, so join the club! Even the most skilled conversationalist experienced this discomfort at some point. If you’re one of us, and never want it to happen again, let’s get strategic.
First understand that even when socially networking, you need a game plan you will follow. In most industries, networking is done to make solid business connections. Whether you’re interacting with new people at a local event or traveling, the process should be the same: Prepare and work your plan.
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Be prepared: The basics
- Carrying enough business cards to get through multiple introductions.
- Checking an advance registration list and highlighting anyone you definitely want to meet or with whom you want to interact.
- Rehearsing your less-than-one-minute introduction speech.
- Rehearsing your less-than-two-minute explanation speech about what you actually do or need.
- Practicing your “firm-and-meaningful” handshake.
- Giving thought to what significant questions you can ask of others to make good use of your time.
- Scheduling enough time to arrive promptly, partake in whatever food and beverage is supplied, and circulate the room in order to meet people.
It that seems like a lot, remember you want to succeed. By following even some of those guidelines you’ll get better at networking and achieve some of the goals set forth when you decided to attend a given event.
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Put your prep to work
Preparation is the first step. Here’s what to do when you finally get to the dance:
- Never let nerves or fear win out and ruin your opportunity. Once you’ve walked through the door, go for it.
- Always try to be authentic and make a personal connection. This works especially well if, after meeting someone, you discover you don’t have any common ground for doing business. Maybe you’ve just found a new partner for tomorrow’s yoga class, instead.
- Don’t think of networking as work. If you enjoy meeting people (and all of us claimed we did when job hunting), networking is a means to that end.
- Consider everyone in the room a potential friend and let the business side of things come later. Establish new relationships first.
- Never stick with a group of familiar people throughout an entire event. Spread your wings and keep moving. If you want to talk to people you already know, go to the lobby bar together when the event is over or meet at another time and place.
- Don’t view every introduction as a “What can this person do for me?” Being a resource toward someone else’s success can be even more powerful.
- Realize that building and developing relationships takes time and conversation. People don’t generally sign contracts with someone they’ve just met, but they do develop meaningful relationships when discussions take place.
- Understand that successful networking involves selling yourself, so get comfortable sharing a few things that let others know who you are.
- Be present when you meet someone. Have real conversations, even if they’re brief. There’s nothing worse than meeting someone who looks around the room while you’re trying to make contact. Focus and listen, then move on.
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A bonus tip
Here’s what NOT to do when the networking event ends: Do not go to your computer and “friend” or “like” everyone whose business card you collected, hoping that will solidify contacts.
Relationships take time to develop. There is a time, place and method for moving your connections forward. Make thoughtful choices about how you proceed. It will reflect well on your image.
What networking skills work best for you? Do have any must-not-do’s? Please share your ideas in the comment section below.