Networking can be a polarizing activity. There are people who thrive on going to networking events, and meeting and greeting others. For others, the very word can be weary. Who wants to go to an event where you don’t know anyone, and have to introduce yourself over and over? If this is you, then read on to find ways to make networking fun, exciting, and even something you start looking forward to.
Redefine the Word
Or stop using the word networking altogether. Start thinking of your next networking event as an ‘open exchange’. If you’re going to an open exchange, then there’s no pressure, but there is still opportunity, and freedom to share ideas, and yes, exchange your contacts and information with a lot of interesting people. All of this for a conversation. Now doesn’t that sound much better than ‘networking’?
Choose The Right Events
There are tons of networking events weekly. That gives you the opportunity to pick and choose which ones to go to. You can find events that relate to your industry where you’ll have plenty in common with other attendees. If you’re a member of your alumni, look up any events they might be hosting. It will be easier to make conversation in groups where you have things in common, then it will be at general networking events. As a bonus, it could start getting you comfortable going to more, different events.
Go With Someone
If you’re too nervous to go to an event on your own, take a friend with you. It’s easier to approach and meet new people in pairs. You might even find that others walk up to you to make connections. Just make sure you don’t only talk to your friend all evening.
Think Outside Traditional Networking
You may have a fixed idea in your mind as to what a networking event should be like. Keep in mind, however, that not all networking happens at cocktail hour type events. Anywhere you can meet with a lot of different people is someplace you can network. Think conferences, exhibitions, speaker events, or even events you might be able to volunteer at—these are events that are more collaborative than traditional networking events, and the environment is geared to let you get to know people organically.
Dress For Success
When you look confident, you feel confident. There’s no rule that says you have to attend networking events dressed in boring workwear. As long as you wear something professional, you can wear anything you want. Walking into a room knowing you look and feel great, is the best confidence booster you could have.
Have Conversation Starters Handy
If small talk is your downfall, then go prepared. Have a few icebreakers at the ready. And no, we’re not talking about the weather. Here are some ideas. If the event has food, that’s always a great topic. Did you read something interesting in the news? Talk about that, and keep it non-controversial. Talk about the latest blockbuster movie, and you’ll definitely find people joining in.
You might think it’s easier to approach someone standing alone at a networking event. But to optimize your experience, try approaching pairs of people. Chances are that either they arrived together, and will soon start mingling. Or that they’ve just met, and want to meet more people. Either way, you’ll be welcomed.
The best networkers know that a successful exchange with another person involves much more than just handing them a business card. Just have a conversation, and it doesn’t have to be all business. The fact is, people do business with people they like. Whether you’re looking for clients, or partners, people are more likely to want to affiliate themselves with you, if you’ve been able to establish a personal connection.
Know When To Leave
Not all events are going to be interesting and useful. Sometimes, a bad networking experience is because you’re not engaged enough. And that’s ok. But sometimes, you can stumble onto an event that’s a bust. Maybe there aren’t enough people there, or there are already cliques formed. In any case, if an event is not worth your time, then cut your losses and leave.
Finally, if you really can’t handle going to a networking event just yet, then consider hosting one of your own. Pick a place that’s not your home, and finalize a date. Invite a few friends, and ask each one to bring someone new with them. This way you’ll socialize and network, without stepping out of your comfort zone.