A common misconception surrounding networking is that the goal is to churn out as many business cards as you can, while giving your best elevator pitch to strangers.
While parts of this are still relevant, this particular method is uncomfortable and, frankly, out of date.
Networking itself can be an intimidating topic, especially if you’re shy. However, there’s a lot of personal benefits involved with talking to strangers.
The question is: How do you organically network? Even if you are the introverted type, following these simple tips can help you network effectively.
How to Network Effectively
The only people who honestly enjoy networking events are social butterflies. If you don’t consider yourself as such, you may have to work a little harder to get comfortable in these environments.
The best thing you can do is to approach others and be approachable yourself. You’re going to be on your feet a lot, so comfortable dress shoes will be a crucial part of any outfit in this scenario. Practicing your greetings and body language before attending will make creating new connections easier.
1. Reach Out to Past Associates
Networking is about thinking about the future, which means it can easily cloud your memories of the past.
Reconnecting with friends, associates, and mentors from your past can unlock the door to many new possibilities for your career.
Like yourself, they are most likely also in a different place in their lives and careers and have made new connections of their own that you can utilize.
It may feel a little forced to reach out to someone that you haven’t spoken to in a long time, but don’t let this feeling deter you.
Hearing from you should be a pleasant surprise. If it has been a long time since you have known each other, remind this person of how you met, and before you know it, you will have a renewed personal connection with them.
2. Take Advantage of Your Contacts
In the theme of past connections, you should also reach out to your alumni network.
Contacting your alumni organization to find the next gathering is an easy way to dive into a safe pool of people. The ice will already be broken as you will all already have something in common – your education.
This bond is an excellent jumping-off point to follow up with possible professional opportunities.
3. Do Your Research
Networking is often heavily reliant on first impressions, so it is always advised that you go into a meeting or event with some preexisting knowledge.
With the technology ready at your disposal today, there’s no excuse for not at least checking LinkedIn before attending.
LinkedIn has a section dedicated to events that you can browse through and consider attending. Once you’ve decided on a good fit for you, check out who else is attending.
Identify specific attendees who you think might be a good connection to make for your career or business.
4. Break the Ice
You saw your chance to talk to that one person you’ve wanted to speak with all night, and now you have their full attention. What do you say?
If you don’t have a killer opening line, a compliment is always a safe ice breaker.
If there’s something you noticed right away about this person, such as their stylish jacket, find out where they got it. Better yet, if you know about a particularly successful project they worked on, then compliment them on their achievement.
Try asking a question that is open-ended so that they feel more engaged. For example, instead of asking what they do, ask why they’re there.
Another tip to keep in mind is to carry your drink in your left hand so that your right is free for shaking.
Always jot down any specifics you recall about your evening when you’re on your way home so that you have reliable information so you can follow up with them.
5. Follow Up
By far, this is one of the most valuable things you can do for your network connections.
Networking opportunities can be overstimulating. These fast-paced environments make it difficult to form a personal connection with someone, which means that you likely won’t make a long-lasting impression on them with just that one meeting.
This is where the follow up comes in. If you felt good about your conversation, ask them how you can stay in touch.
Within the next few days, you should message them to show that you’re interested in the opportunities they have to offer.
In this email (or phone call, LinkedIn message, etc.), remind this person of a specific moment during your in-person interaction so that they easily remember who you are (try working in that jacket compliment again!).