31 March 2015
Author: The ExecuSearch Group
Let’s face it: networking is hard. Even the most extroverted of us can find it difficult to meet, click with, and build a relationship with professionals in our field—but on top of that, what if you’re an introvert, or feel a strong aversion to the networking process? What if the thought of walking into a networking event with hundreds of attendees makes your palms sweat, or your stomach turns at the suggestion of striking up a conversation with a complete stranger? There are a number of these scenarios that plenty of professionals dread when networking. But, regardless of how you feel about it, your networking can still be effective and productive with the right tactics: Prepare conversation starters. Likewise, having a number of conversation starters at your disposal can help break the ice when meeting new contacts. It’s best to begin with a conversation starter rather than leading the exchange with your elevator pitch, so memorize a list of options for when you see someone you would like to engage with. Some effective ones include: Hi, my name is ___. You are? So, what do you do? How did you hear about this event? Did you try these (food items)? They’re really good. It’s crazy in here. Have you made any good connections? Did you hear about that (current event)/see that (viral video or article)/etc.? Many conversation starters may sound awkward on paper, but you’ll be surprised at how effective it can be to simply offer your name with a handshake or comment on something happening at the event. Come prepared with an elevator pitch. If you find being put on the spot difficult, crafting an impressive elevator pitch and for upcoming networking events is a great way to take the pressure off. Of course, you don’t want to sound too salesy or rehearsed, but at least having a good idea of what you’d want to communicate about yourself and your brand can greatly help ease your nerves when beginning a conversation. Arrive early. This is especially helpful for those who experience anxiety when wandering through large groups of people. Getting to the event early gives you an opportunity to scope out the layout, the people, and the general feel of the situation. You’re much less likely to feel overwhelmed if you’re already there when people begin arriving, rather than walking into a bustling event that’s already on its way. Listen. If you’re naturally nervous about carrying a conversation or promoting yourself, here’s your permission to breathe a sigh of relief. Contrary to popular belief, networking events aren’t about selling your brand; while it’s important to come prepared to represent yourself should any opportunities arise, the true nature of a networking event is to build relationships with like-minded individuals who have similar skills, goals, and career tracks. So rather than lead the conversation, take the time to listen. Many will appreciate the effort, especially if others have been too busy selling themselves to lend an ear. Let your materials speak for you. If appropriate, bring copies of your resume, portfolio pieces, and anything else you could possibly hand out after leaving an impression with someone. This is especially useful if you have a hard time keeping a conversation going when you first meet someone, or if you run out of time until your next commitment. Leaving an impressive resume or portfolio piece behind with the appropriate person—especially if these documents provide follow-up information, such as a phone number, email address, or website link—is a great of saying “remember me for later.” Add in a follow-up email, and you’ve got yourself a great first impression. Keep trying. This might be the last thing you want to hear if you hate networking, but you can only get better at it by making more of an effort. Go to a few networking events, invite existing contacts out to lunch, or simply reach out to someone in your field you’d like to get to know better. These things can all be nerve-wracking, but the more you do them, the more fearless you’ll become.