Raise your hand if you dislike networking events. Don’t be shy – many professionals either try to get out of attending them, or avoid meeting new people when they do go. However, this isn’t because they think the topic of the event is dull and/or the quality of other attendees is poor, but rather because they are not confident in their own networking abilities.
Unfortunately, letting your nerves get the best of you prevents you from reaping the benefits of any networking opportunity, regardless of whether or not it is at an actual networking event. Therefore, next time you consider skipping out on one, try to step out of your comfort zone and go. To help put you on the right track, here are 4 steps you can take to boost your self-confidence and get better at networking:
Set goals: Prior to the event, take some time to really think about what you want to get out of it, and what type of person you’ll have to meet in order to accomplish that. Next, make it your goal to connect with approximately 3 fellow attendees. If you have access to the registration list, even better! You can do research on who is expected to attend in order to pinpoint the people you specifically want to meet. If you don’t have the list, use the reason why you are at the event to help guide your decision about who to engage in deeper conversations with.
Note: Regardless of whether you have the list, it’s important to be strategic in choosing how many people to connect with. For example, setting a more reasonable goal of meeting 3-4 people is more efficient than simply handing your business card to 15 attendees. The smaller number will not only help keep you focused on making meaningful connections that you can utilize in the future, but will also make the event less overwhelming.
Avoid small talk: The awkward silence that often results from small talk is one of the main reasons why professionals dislike networking. Therefore, rather than bringing up topics such as the weather, how tired you are, and your latest vacation, focus on conversation starters that are more relevant to the event. For example, asking more open-ended questions like, “what do you hope to learn today?” or “what is the most interesting aspect about your job?” can take you a long way in helping you establish a better rapport with the person you are speaking to.
Show your value: If you want to build a meaningful, long-lasting connection with a new contact, you’re going to have to show them why you’re worth the initial investment. A common misconception is that in order to do this, you have to play up your skills and expertise. However, talking about one’s self at great length can not only feel unnatural and awkward, but also isolate the other people involved in the conversation. A better way to show your value is through your actions. In other words, how you can help your new contact with accomplishing some sort of professional goal. Whether that means making an introduction to someone in your network, or offering to review their resume, find a way to see or ask what you can do for them.
Keep in touch: Not keeping in touch with new connections and only reaching out when you need something are two of the biggest networking mistakes you could make. The key to successful networking is consistent communication, and in this day and age, technology makes this easier than ever before. As a result, within one to two days of the event connect with your new contacts on LinkedIn with a personalized invitation that reminds them of who you are, where you met, and what you talked about. After making initial contact, some easy ways you can stay in touch with them include sending them articles they would find interesting, setting up meetings over coffee, or just calling them on the phone every once in a while to catch up.
With these 4 tips in mind, you’ll be ready to take on any type of networking event!