Many people hate networking and even worse, networking events. They feel so stressed about their busy schedules that they don’t even want to think about adding extra activities to the lineup. Nobody likes spending their ‘extra’ time (that for many of us is a leisure nowadays) on terribly awkward moments involving uncomfortable conversations, feeling weird about introducing yourself and dealing with superficial small talk. Well, no matter how much you dread the idea of networking, mastering this skill is essential for your career success. The following tricks will help you create new professional connections in a comfortable and meaningful way.
If you are a beginner networker don’t rush immediately to attend as many events as possible and to toss your business card to everyone you stumble on. You need to network with a purpose, be selective about the events you choose to attend and more specific about the people you plan to meet. When building a network, only focus on familiar territory at first, namely on people who can gradually help you move away from your comfort zone and start exploring other unexplored areas. The key here is to have clear goals and agenda in mind, so that you know who to connect with and how far this contact can help you go.
Do Something you Enjoy
Don’t assume that a networking event is all about meeting new people, doing previous research and preparing elevator pitches to a bunch of people. Networking can happen anywhere, and the best way to make new and real connections is to attend events or volunteer at an organisation, society, club that inspires you. Find out what you are passionate about and what enthuses you. Then start interacting with other like-minded people, share your thoughts with them and see whether there are any potential opportunities to collaborate with them on a professional level. Get curious and don’t be afraid of initiating conversations. You never know where they may lead. Make sure the groups or circles you choose to network into fit well with your networking plans. Look for events that have specific topics of interest and network with peers who do the same job as you – This is called vertical networking.
Make Networking a Game
Before heading to a networking event, practice your networking skills with someone you know will give you honest feedback. Then set a challenge or a goal for yourself, something like “I am going to find three like-minded individuals and gain new insights from them” or “I am going to find two loners who don’t have a conversation partner and share experiences and lessons I’ve learned over the years” . This playful approach will make it easier for you to achieve your goals and measure success.
Your Listening Skills are Your Assets
When conversing with others be an empathic listener. This will not necessarily make you stand out, but it will leave a strong, lasting impression on others. Listening with a sincere interest and asking a few thoughtful questions will pay dividends into forging a two-way, authentic relationship. Also, try to remember people’s names and use their names in conversation. Doing so, makes the other person feel more welcoming like you really know him, and he knows you.
Find a Buddy
Walking into a room full of unfamiliar faces is hard, and it is even worse when you are all alone. A good tactic is to get a close friend, or a colleague accompany you at an event. Choose someone who is inherently extroverted and get him help you break the ice and get a conversation started. Make an effort to intentionally go different directions just to avoid excluding or discouraging others from approaching.
Don’t let the idea of networking overwhelm you to the extent that you refrain from meeting new people and forging new professional connections. Use these tips to make networking a pleasurable and fun experience!