Networking is a useful professional skill that can initially be difficult to acquire. It goes against instinct to put yourself out there, and meet people outside of those you are comfortable with.
I’m not immune to networking’s difficulties. It can be hard for me to meet new people or pitch what I do. But after some self reflection after a recent young professionals networking event, I realized I was improving. Today, to share the lessons I’ve learned in my networking journey, I’ve identified six key tips to help you network efficiently and optimize your experiences at conferences and professional events:
1. Get into the right mindset.
People can usually pick up on self-consciousness or nervousness, even if they’re too polite to comment on it. While it can be nerve-wracking to put yourself out there and present yourself to someone, you must keep in mind that the person you want to talk to is probably eager to meet you as well. Instead of going into the interaction with the mindset of how you can get the most out of it, try to approach networking as meeting a new friend and learning about what drives them. Not every first conversation can delve beyond the superficial, but if you’re able to convey genuine interest, that will often lead to a genuine connection.
2. Perfect your introduction.
A simple handshake and greeting can go far, but when the conversation steers towards your professional background, make sure you have a few quick points you would like the person to remember you by. At the networking lunch, one person asked how she could describe what she does to her family in a way that would be easily understood, and ESRI President Jack Dangermond revealed that his mother never quite knew what he did (she did know that he had a company). He would be able to tell his mother what he does now, though, because he can readily describe the impact of his work. Instead of focusing on the technicalities of your profession that might be out of scope for someone who does not work with you, highlight the most impactful parts of what you do.
3. Ask thoughtful questions.
Conversations usually precede connections, and memorable conversations can arise organically if you listen to the other person and ask incisive questions about their work. Connect what they do to something you’ve heard or read if you’re able, or ask for their input on a professional problem. The deeper the conversation goes, the better you’ll be able to understand the person, what they do, and how they think. This can be useful down the road when you reconnect with them.
4. Be high energy and positive.
Even if you’re naturally more reserved or if you’re not at the best point in your life professionally, you can still be excited or interested about something at the event or in your professional life. I’ve heard said that you generally notice things in other people that you see in yourself, so even if you don’t like someone or something at the event, you should refrain from being overly critical or condescending. Regardless of the circumstances, you don’t want your future connections to associate you with negativity.
5. Exchange a means of connection (LinkedIn, business cards, emails, etc)
When the conversation draws to a close, it’s time to exchange a means of contact. LinkedIn is useful in this regard, but business cards also work. Try to identify something to touch base on, whether a professional development or a current events topic or a topic of mutual interest.
6. Maintain connections after the conference.
If you’ve asked good questions and had a memorable conversation, it should be easy to continue where you left off or tie in what you remember of the person into your communications. Try to check in periodically to see what the person is up to. If you notice a LinkedIn professional change, a message of congratulations would never be remiss, and if you’re embarking on a new stage in your career, an email or update would keep you in touch with your network.
What have you found to be useful in networking at professional events? Let us know in the comments below.
I know most people recoil at the thought of striking up conversations with strangers in a crowded conference hall, but these are great tips for taking some of the anxiety out of networking!