At GovLoop, we are pretty lucky. We get to talk to govies everyday who are passionate about what they do and the people they serve. Especially at our events and trainings, the excitement and dedication we experience in our GovLoop community is contagious. These people make us want to talk to them, learn from them, and help them. It’s a thrill.
That being said, we have to admit that getting up and actually interacting with new people can be daunting–even when the people in question are welcoming and exciting. Luckily, a fellow GovLooper, Julia, offered us some advice to overcome our fears. She gave us 8 tips to become better networkers. Her tips are below. We found them helpful, and we hope you do too.
1. Get enough sleep. This tip isn’t really about getting 8 hours of sleep. It’s about getting the amount of sleep that you would normally and not breaking your routine. The first step to a successful networking endeavor is to be mentally prepared. You can’t do that if you are tired or stressed, so relax the night before and make sure to get to bed on time.
2. Dress for success. You might think this is obvious, but dressing for the occasion is actually more than wearing the appropriate outfit for an event. If you want to feel comfortable networking with new people, you should be wearing the clothes that help you do just that–feel comfortable. Don’t wear a suit that’s too new, fitted or scratchy. Pick something that allows you to worry about other people rather than the appropriateness of your clothing.
Julia recommends having a go-to networking outfit, so you immediately get in the networking zone when you put it on. It will also help you feel at ease, since it will become an outfit you know and are comfortable in.
3. Set goals. Go into a networking event with a target of how many and what type of people you want to meet. If possible, do some research beforehand to see who will be at the event and what you might talk to them about. Don’t be overambitious though. Set a challenging yet achievable goal for how many people you can network with. Julia recommends allotting 10 minutes per person, and giving yourself a bit of wiggle room for bathroom and coffee breaks.
Once you’ve set your goal, tell other people about it. If you tell Donna that you want to meet Karen at some point during the evening, Donna may be able to introduce you. That’s what networking is all about!
4. Say hello. Rest assured, you are not the only person who is uncomfortable networking. Half of the room is also waiting for someone to say hello, so don’t be afraid to approach others. Far more often than not, they will appreciate you taking the first step. And you don’t have to say anything inspiring. A simple, “Hi, I’m Hannah. What brings you here today?” can get a great conversation started.
5. Don’t talk to your friends. We’ve all done it. You go to an event with a friend, thinking she will make you feel a bit more comfortable in a room full of strangers. Then you end up hanging onto her like a lifeboat and not meeting anyone new. To avoid doing that, Julia recommends making a plan to separate from your friend.
You can still tag-team a room without being glued at the hip. Split up, encourage each other to accomplish their networking goals, and promise to introduce the other if you meet a particularly good contact. You can check in with each other every once in a while, but try to stay separated for the majority of the event. Oh, and don’t forget to tell your friend you’re doing this ahead of time! Both of you should be in on the plan.
6. Flip the script. Ask yourself: Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Play the opposite! If you normally talk a lot, make a conscious effort to listen more. If you are naturally quiet, work to carry the conversation. It’ll help you find more balance in the conversation. Julia recommends following the rule of thirds. Spend one-third of the conversation listening, one-third asking questions, and one-third talking.
To find this balance, it helps to start the conversation by focusing on the other person. Ask them questions to get them talking. Most people will naturally give you an opening to talk about yourself or your company when they are done explaining their own background.
7. Connect people. It’s called networking, not dialoguing. Once you find a good conversation, it’s easy to stick with that one person. Don’t. Invite others to your conversation and make useful introductions when possible. If you’re in a group, step back to let other people join , introduce yourself, and tell new participants what the group is talking about.
Oh, and don’t worry. Just because you’ve forgotten the name of the person you’re talking to (it happens to all of us) doesn’t mean you can’t make a good introduction. Just ask, “Have you two met each other?” and let them introduce themselves. It will work every time.
8. Follow up. What good is chatting with Aaron Sorkin at a cocktail party if you don’t follow up to discuss that job he offered you? It’s a good story, but it’s not much more. To really get the most out of networking, you have to follow up with the people you meet and the plans you’ve made. Otherwise you’ll never be the next CJ Cregg.
Your follow-up should be both personal and timely. Julia recommends following up within a week so that your contact will still remember you and your meeting. If you’re prone to forgetting, set yourself a reminder to do so. And if you quickly jot down a couple of notes on the back of their business card, you’ll have something to work off of when you send a follow-up email.
Extra tip: Don’t underestimate the power of coffee! It can help keep you energized and the coffee station is an easy place to meet new people without having to make awkward advances.
Feel free to check out Julia’s full presentation by clicking here. Do you have any other networking tips? Please share them in the comments below. We can use all the help we can get!