I’ve been attending a few business networking events in the past recent months. In order to grow my marketing business, I know I have to meet more people and spread the word about my services. I don’t consider myself a shy person. But networking like a boss ─ with confidence ─ can be a little intimidating for even the best of us.
Depending on your personality, meeting strangers and greeting people that you hardly know can be stressful and even scary. Like any business skill, networking is something that you have to train yourself in. The secret is learning to be confident in yourself and what you have to offer, being genuine, and trusting your gut feeling. You also want to make sure to network strategically. Attending the right events, dressing appropriately and having your introduction prepared and practiced ahead of time can go a long way to helping you network successfully. Below are my tips and tricks on how to network like a boss.
- Don’t be afraid to go alone. Networking events are intimidating, so people often bring someone else to lean on as a crutch. But having a crutch might prevent you from opening up to new people. I like to go to networking events alone because I never know who I’ll talk to. It makes the possibilities endless.
- Choose the right events. Not every group of people will be right for you. Choose groups and events where the people that congregate share your interests and/or there are potential clients. Hip Haus organizes great networking events for young professionals to interact. I’ve had luck joining various Facebook groups as they often promote events within the group. Also a website like Noteable always has fashionable event listings for Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. You can even try Eventbrite or MeetUp to research events and social opportunities.
- Dress appropriately and professionally. Establish yourself as a successful person, which you can do by dressing the part. This does not mean that you need to wear expensive clothes, but do wear something a bit on the dressy side and leave the comfortable baggy pants at home. If necessary, get advice from an image consultant.
- Be prepared. Bring plenty of business cards, but only give them to people who show a real interest in what you do. Brochures or printed postcards can also be effective.
- Smile. By smiling, you’ll put your nervous self at ease, and you’ll also come across as warm and inviting to others. Remember to smile before you enter the room, or before you start your next conversation.
- Ask easy, open-ended questions. Don’t wait around the edges of the room, waiting for someone to approach you. To get the conversation started, simply walk up to a person or a group, and say, “May I join you” or “What brings you to this event?” Don’t forget to listen intently to their replies. If you’re not a natural extrovert, you’re probably a very good listener ─ and listening can be an excellent way to get to know a person.
- Learn how to introduce yourself. An introduction should have three parts: an opening statement, one or two examples and a closer that opens up the conversation to the person or group you are chatting with. The specific words you choose will arise spontaneously in the moment depending on who you are talking to, but planning the highlights of what you want to say will help you engage confidently.
“I am the social media strategist for We Love Books. I build a community for book lovers to discover our store online. I love my work because it’s fun and it really makes a difference for people.”
- Know your drinking limits. Networking events will no doubt involve alcohol. In fact, drinking at work functions can play an important part of moving up the executive career ladder. However, you don’t want to be stereotyped as “that girl” or “that guy.” It’s not necessary to shun alcohol altogether to maintain a professional demeanor, but know your limits and stick within them. Remember that potential clients, bosses, customers will be there observing your behaviour. Learn to sip rather than guzzle. Eat before you get to the event. Carry a drink around with you as a prop and drink only half (or none) of it. No one will notice if you are making dazzling conversation.
- Follow up. It’s often said that networking is where the conversation begins, not ends. If you’ve had a great exchange, ask your conversation partner the best way to stay in touch. Some people like email or phone; others prefer social networks like LinkedIn. Get in touch within 48 hours of the event to show you’re interested and available, and reference something you discussed, so your contact remembers you.
- Embrace LinkedIn. Networking events or professional association meetings may be weekly or monthly, and LinkedIn can bridge the gaps. Carry the personal connections you make in person to the digital world. It is a convenient way to keep in touch, and it is an effective way to share your resume.
Walking into a group of strangers, extending your hand and introducing yourself can be daunting for many. Others love the experience of meeting new people and plunge into business networking events with flair and skill. No matter where you fall on this scale, you can improve your networking skill and comfort. It’s worth it for your career and for the opportunity to give and receive assistance.
Image via Huffington Post