Everyone gets nervous. It's a sure sign you care about something when you feel those nerves creeping up. But, don't let your anxiety or fear get in the way of you making connections when you attend networking events.
We invest our time (and sometimes our money) in various networking events, so how do we make the best out of these opportunities? Keep reading to find out how you can get a positive return on your investment.
"As professionals, both budding and seasoned, we understand the importance of expanding our professional and personal networks. It's not an easy task, yet our professional success directly correlates to how skilled we are at networking—or how skilled we pretend to be."
First, identify the work you are most interested in pursuing. Then, research companies in those industries. Take into account each company's corresponding culture, and consider whether their employees seem like people you would want to work with, to decide whether the company is the right fit for you.
Review the companies' websites. Look into the company culture via social media. Check them out on LinkedIn—but don't blindly add them to your connections. Some professionals find it unsettling when people they haven't met attempt to connect with them online. It's more appropriate to start a conversation in person first; then tailor your message to connect online later.
Take advantage of upcoming networking opportunities by subscribing to community and/or industry newsletters. Word-of-mouth is another great way to learn about networking events. Attending events requested by people you respect offers a higher chance there will be like-minded individuals present.
"Even though I'm new to the business world, I feel like I'm at that awkward, young age where I'm trying to establish myself and join the "big kids' table"—trying to figure out how exactly to start a networking conversation."
So, you did your research, strategized and attended the event, but that lump in your throat swelled when it came time to start a conversation.
Take a deep breath, introduce yourself with a firm, confident handshake and remember "FORD." "FORD" stands for Family, Occupation, Recreation and Dreams. It's a tool to help spark conversation or keep one going. Asking questions surrounding these four topics can help elevate small talk into meaningful dialogue.
Although small talk is often awkward and clumsy, it becomes less and less difficult with practice. Embrace small talk and concentrate on what's being said. If all else fails, ask questions or ask their opinion. Genuine curiosity can breathe life into a dwindling conversation and create mutually beneficial relationships.
"I think the most difficult part of networking is overcoming that mental block of feeling insignificant. I have to tell myself over and over that, although I'm young, I do have valuable knowledge and insight to contribute."
Resist the temptation to over exaggerate your experience or abilities. We all want to win business and be viewed as competent in our profession, but over-selling yourself can do just the opposite. Embracing and admitting your flaws graciously fosters trust.
Take Rufus Griscom, founder of the blog Babble, for instance. Rufus realized his board of directors trusted him more and were more willing to problem solve with him when he was transparent about the challenges Babble experienced. So, he applied that same idea in his sales pitches. Rufus was honest with investors about his company flaws and humbly listed reasons why the investors shouldn't buy his company. His honesty won the investors' trust, and Rufus ended up selling his company for $40 million.
"It's important to make sure you stand out. When I receive follow-up emails from people I've met at networking events, it shows me how interested they really are and it instantly leaves an impression."
The event is over and you retreat to your car with a handful of business cards. After you catch your breath, it's time to finish the work you started. Stay top of mind with those you've met by following up within 24 hours by email. If you agreed to meet someone in your network on a later date, a follow-up email serves as a reminder and confirms the details of the meeting—whether it's just getting a coffee and picking each other's brains or a new client meeting.
For a more personal touch, send a handwritten note or card. Because handwritten cards are not the standard anymore, they make a bigger impact. The recipient will appreciate that you took the time to reach out to him or her and to nurture your connections and prospective clients. What a simple way to win someone over! (Extra points if the card includes a news clipping or article that you found relevant to the previous conversation.)
"People do business with people that they know and like, so building relationships is VITAL!"
Above all, be yourself. If you're authentic, truthful and polite, you will go far. Remember your manners, say thank you and don't let your nerves get in the way of you making quality connections with others. Build those relationships in whatever appropriate manner you can, and maintain them. Then, when you need your network, they'll be there for you.
Public Relations Major at the University of Texas at Arlington