It has been a while since we were at networking events, and we are all a little rusty. And let's be honest, some of us never liked them to begin with.
The most important thing to remember is that networking is investing in yourself and others. It is not just going to an event and nursing a glass of wine and nibbling on a piece or two of cheese. True networking happens after the event.
Networking is about establishing authentic connections with people. Networking events can offer the opportunity to begin and strengthen some of these relationships. Yet many people fear these events as if they were going to be a party to human sacrifice.
Remember, everyone who is attending these events is going for the same reason - to expand or strengthen their connections. We have a united purpose and, therefore, should be there to help each other.
Below are some of my tips for surviving and thriving at these events. While a few focus on live events -- most are also applicable to virtual too.
- Know your purpose in going to an event or who you're coming to see.
- Research people and event.
- Believe in yourself.
- Get mentally geared up for events - take the lead. Remember to practice your introduction, smile, use a firm handshake, and make eye contact.
- Focus on listening, asking questions - be friendly (not a watch watcher).
- People like talking about themselves. Ask questions: Why are you here? What are you hoping to get out of this event?
- Be prepared to answer why you are at the event and make sure the reason is one where people would want to have a relationship with you, not I am trying to get promoted and need a new sponsor.
- Focus on your value to others.
- Look for shared interests to build conversations and relationships.
- People feel flattered when you show interest in work or organizations (avoid religion, politics, private information, and gossip).
- Be prepared with questions if the person you want to network with is an introvert.
- Forget the sales pitch but know your value statement.
- Don't hijack the conversation.
- If you forget a name, say, "Your name is at the tip of my tongue."
- Feel free to move on when a conversation has ended.
- Bring and give out business cards (remember those?)
- Ask for business cards and put a note about the person - so you remember them.
- Be authentic and memorable (in a good way), and yes, you can be both.
- A way to approach groups is to say, "What brings you all here?"
- Be open to new people - the most surprising people have added actual value to my network and life.
- Move out of your comfort zone and approach someone you wouldn't usually.
- Make an effort (even when you don't want to).
- Talk to people you don't know rather than those you do.
- Develop a habit of introducing people and if you know of a shared connection, mention it, i.e., you both went to Brown or practice Pilates.
- If in a conversation, you may want to ask for permission to continue.
- Ask if you can connect them to people you know.
- Follow up with a personalized note or LinkedIn message.
- Highly recommend thank you notes to panelists or speakers you want to know better.
- If you offered to help or give information, make sure you do it.
Finally, be kind to yourself and others. We are all going back to in-person networking events after a long hiatus. Many people are coming back to re-thinking or re-energized about their careers. Be helpful to the extent you can to all of these folks. That is how you really build a network.
Want more tips on how you can advance in your career? Download Sheila's 10 Tips for In-House Counsel Struggling to Advance where she shares her time-tested tips for in-house counsel to release fear, jump-start your career, and propel towards promotion.