Attending networking events is a fantastic way to build your network and make business connections. The problem is, a lot of us can’t stand the idea of networking. It feels fake and contrived. And if you’re an introvert, fuggettaboutit.
Just thinking of spending countless hours on small talk in a loud and crowded room of strangers is enough to make you exhausted. But it doesn't have to be if you approach it the right way. Most people go to these types of events with the intent to push their agenda on anyone who will listen to them. Here are 10 tips to network without being fake.
1. Go with the intention of building relationships and meeting new people.
Everyone is there for the same reason -- to talk business. If you show up with the same plan, you'll just blend in with the rest of them. Stand out and be the one who is there to make friends. not just business connections. Once you make those connections and you feel comfortable, it will be a lot easier to talk business with them.
2. Focus on giving vs. getting.
Think about how you can help them, not the other way around. Think of another friend or connection that you could possibly introduce them to or recommend a class or program that you know about that will help their business flourish.
3. Be present and focus on the person you are talking to.
We are all guilty of this -- we're talking to someone, but our minds are wandering and our eyes are looking around the room or at our phones, plotting out our next move. Being fully present with someone is one of the greatest gifts you can give to them. It shows that you are genuine and you really care about what they are saying.
4. Listen more than you talk.
People love talking about themselves, so let them. Listen with the intent to learn more about that person, not with the intent to reply. Before you answer them or respond back, wait at least 3 seconds after they stop talking. You'll notice a huge difference in your dialogue.
5. Think long term vs. short term.
Don't push your agenda on them. Form a good relationship first, keep in touch with that person and then if you can use their services or vice versa, then you can offer it up. Each person at a networking event is so inundated with everyone else's junk, it's hard to keep track of who's who, so make it your job to stand out by being different.
6. Ask questions that will start an open dialogue.
Think outside the box. Don't just ask what they do for a living, who they work for or who they know. Ask them personal questions, ask about their hobbies. Conversations flow a lot smoother when you are talking about things you enjoy and have a passion for.
7. Don't over commit or feel guilty.
People will extend an invitation for coffee or lunch. If you're too busy and you don't have time, be honest. Don't agree to something just to be nice. Because you won't seem to nice, reliable or respectable if you have to back out of plans that you agreed to.
8. Quality vs. Quantity.
There is no shortage of attendees at networking events. You have to pick and choose who you're going to spend your time with. This might be difficult to do for some people, but I say go with your gut. There will be certain people you can connect with and certain people you can't.
If you're vibe matches theirs and the conversation is flowing, don't be so quick to move on to the next one. On the other hand, if it's just not happening and this person has you bored to tears, use the good ol' restroom excuse and find someone who's more on your level. Time is money, so don't waste it.
9. Take action immediately.
When you get home or back to the office. Make sure to send an email or personal note to all the new friends you made to follow up. It will keep you fresh in their mind and a personal letter goes a long way. Just don't go home and troll their social media sites and add them as friends. It's kind of creepy and they may not be ready to let you in on their personal life... yet.
10. Only go to events that excite you.
Go to make friends and meet with like-minded people. There are a ton of events every week, so be choosey about which ones you go to. If something sounds boring or isn't at a great location -- skip it. Successful people pass up the good things to make room for the great things.
If you still can't stomach the idea of going to big corporate networking events, start with clubs or classes. Use social media to find people who are going to the events before you get there and start a conversation. Most of all -- keep it genuine and be yourself. Trying too hard is a huge turnoff. You want people to remember you for all the right reasons -- not the wrong ones.
Jenn Scalia Photo Credit: The Paper Wall