Networking events are crucial for finding the right people for your organization, reaching your career goals, and making connections for future collaborations. And yet, you find yourself dreading them. You typically sit through sessions, rehearsing your pitch, and scanning the room to see who you hope you meet–and who you want to avoid. Then you file into the lobby of the conference center, palms sweaty, mouth dry. If you’re not careful, you’ll find yourself in the same place you were at the 8th-grade dance–up against a wall, watching everyone else, waiting for someone to ask you to dance, err, talk.
But what if you took a little pressure off yourself? What if networking wasn’t just about you being rehearsed and polished? But it was about you getting to know someone else? When networking is more about others than it is about you, you’ll find that your time is not only more enjoyable, it’s more effective. Because at the end of the day, networking is not about proving yourself to others, it’s about establishing relationships. Here are eight things you can do to relieve some pressure and still successfully network.
1. Build Relationships – Flip your objective when you meet someone new. Don’t attempt to sell yourself, your company, or your product. Instead, be authentic. Focus on building rapport and getting to know the person you’re talking to. Share insights that stood out to you during the conference and establish common ground. While it’s smart to have a prepared pitch, don’t let your pitch be the first–or only–thing you talk about. Instead, work at building a relationship with someone else. This will make you more memorable and your pitch more natural.
2. Ask About Others First – When you approach a new person, introduce yourself and then ask interesting questions to get to know them. As you find common ground, you can bond over shared ideas, experiences, and convictions. Then, when it’s time to give a pitch, you can tailor it in a way that connects you to this person. Your authenticity and humility are much more impressive than a well-rehearsed sales pitch.
3. Engage in Conversation – Take time with each person you speak with. Let them know you’re not just talking to them to get a return–you’re trying to learn about them. As you converse, be an active listener. Remember their name and ask follow-up questions that show you’re invested in the conversation. Make eye contact. Skilled networkers can talk to many people at an event, yet make each person feel as if they are the most important person in the room. Don’t scan the room to look for your next introduction while you’re talking to someone else. At the end of the conversation, thank them for their time and reiterate a talking point that impacted you.
4. Wait to be Asked – Many people in the room will be pushing their agenda, trying to make themselves and their roles known. You can set yourself apart by offering a succinct answer to the question, “what do you do?” By providing a somewhat vague answer, you allow the other person to ask follow-up questions. When you wait to be asked, you can ensure the other person wants to know the answers. Eventually, you’ll have given your pitch at the other person’s request and built a relationship in the process.
5. Do Your Research – Before the event, learn who will be there and who you want to talk to. Then, try to find out a little bit about them and their company so that you can ask knowledgeable questions. If you’re speaking to someone whose work you admire, offer a genuine compliment, and try to learn more. You will be more memorable when you are informed and genuinely interested in the conversation at hand.
6. Take Initiative – Especially if you are an introvert, networking events can feel intimidating. Rather than avoiding awkward situations by standing alone in a corner, waiting to be approached, embrace the awkward moment, and say “hi” first. You’re not the only one feeling this way, so you can be vulnerable. Break the ice by acknowledging how awkward these events can be, introduce yourself, and then ask an engaging question. Your honesty can put others at ease and show that you’re both motivated and personable.
7. It’s Not About You – Remember that your goal is not to put a spotlight on yourself, it’s to make a connection. As you ask questions and get to know someone, see if there is a problem you can fix. Can you share your experiences to help someone else? When you make it about them, not about you, you’ll stand out, build trust and rapport, and establish a genuine relationship.
8. Share More Than Your Credentials – A typical introduction includes your name and title. However, you are more than what you do for a living. Stand out by revamping your introduction. Use descriptors that give a snapshot into who you are, not just what you do. Are you a parent and an artist? Are you a first-generation American or fluent in another language? By sharing more than the letters behind your name, you ignite conversation and build stronger connections. Not to mention, you’re sure to be remembered.
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