In a city like New York, networking events happen everyday. Relationships can be make or break when building a career, so making the best of every opportunity to connect with people doing things you care about is important. But let’s face it, networking events can be awkward. The premise of seeking professionally advantageous relationships can feel disingenuous in and of itself. Once you get over that initial hump, there’s striking up conversation with strangers, trying to sound impressive but unpretentious, and all the other facets of networking performance to maneuver. It really shouldn’t be that complicated, though. A few best practices will help you flow seamlessly through your next after work mixer.
First, networking… a definition. Networking is the process of developing mutually beneficial professional relationships. Like all relationships, when networking is one-sided, it doesn’t work. It’s most successful when all involved seek to give more often than they receive. With that in mind, here are some tips.
Quality trumps quantity
One of the first mistakes people make at networking events is thinking they’ve failed if they haven’t met most of the room. That’s a lot of pressure. Yes, every person you don’t meet can feel like a missed opportunity, but it’s best to turn that thought on its head and focus on making the most of the connections you do create. A few meaningful conversations with two or three people will always prove more sustaining than surface chatter with 30. I don’t even know how anyone musters enough stamina to accomplish the latter.
A great way to break the initial ice at a networking event is to do some research in advance. Depending on where you learn about the event, you might have access to a list of attendees. If it’s the kind of event that has speakers, you’ll usually see their bios. Whatever the case may be, once you have names, you have Google and LinkedIn to assist in getting some information. Do a quick search, see what the person’s been up to, and look for points of intersection between your interests and theirs. This will be great fodder for conversation and increase the likelihood of making a good connection. You may even want to think up a couple of questions in advance. Do whatever will help you feel confident and relaxed during the interaction.
Ask for introductions
Requesting introductions from mutual friends or acquaintances can be a big help. Already, you’ll have someone in common with the person you want to meet. How do you know so and so often leads to great stories and points of connection. The hosts of an event can also be your go to for facilitating introductions. If there is something in particular you want to connect with the other person about, make sure your facilitator includes it in the introduction.
All the networking best practices in the world are pretty useless if you don’t maintain the relationships you spark at each event. Business cards will just turn to clutter in your drawers. Make sure you follow up. Invite your new contact out for coffee so you can delve deeper into the conversation you started. Find out what they may need some help on. I’ve heard rules like help with three things before you ask for one. That’s a little too formulaic for me but the sentiment is right. Seek to be of value. If they’re seeking to do the same, you’ll have a very fruitful relationship.
We take work so seriously, and we should. But in all our seriousness, let’s not forget to be joyful and have some fun. People want to be around others enjoying themselves in whatever they do. Don’t forget to bring your personality and zeal to your work. That energy will be contagious and draw other enthusiastic and passionate people to you. Once you find that in yourself and in your work, networking will be a piece of cake!
Networking can be a lot more productive and enjoyable with a few strategies and a good attitude. Whether you’re attending solo or going with your whole crew, the goal is the same, to build relationships with new people. Don’t spend the evening staring into your phone or only mingling with friends. There are a lot better places to do that. Take advantage of the opportunity to mix it up with a new crowd, learn something, and potentially make a long lasting connection.
Put these tips to work at WomenWerk’s Winter Wonderland Party on Dec. 10th. We’re serving up free appetizers and drink tickets. Get your early bird tickets for $15 today!