As we touched on yesterday, many of us find large networking events to be quite awkward. Personally, when I do attend, I always try to remind myself that I am not the only person in the room who is feeling uncomfortable or self-conscious. I am probably not even in the minority.
There are some very good tips out there on how to get past your shyness and plunge right in. Here is some advice paraphrased from Business and Productivity Coach, Carrie Greene, of CarrieThru.com:
- Rescue someone. There is always going to be someone in the room besides you who is feeling a little tentative in a large networking gathering. Sometimes you can even spot them just by looking around. Why not identify a person who looks like they might welcome a friendly face and go over and introduce yourself? Don’t spend too much time thinking about what you’re going to say. Instead, just compliment them on the jacket they are wearing or on their earrings. Start with a compliment and take the time to learn about them.
- Relax. Don’t try too hard at impressing the person you are talking to. Be yourself. Don’t “hard sell.”
- Networking events are not competitions. It’s not about meeting as many people as you can meet in the course of the hour or so you are there. It’s about making a few real connections, ones you can build on.
- Don’t neglect the follow-up. Too often, people exchange cards or contact information, and then do nothing with it. Write a nice thank-you note saying you were glad to make a new acquaintance. Suggest another meeting. But don’t waste the contact.
- Show up… consistently. One way to avoid feeling like a stranger in a strange land at networking events is to attend the same events regularly. You will begin to feel like you belong, and as we know, that’s a great feeling.
Once you have overcome some of the psychological hurdles of successfully participating in social networking events you can really get down to business. To that end, I suggest you “fish where the fish are,” in other words, go in prepared to connect with people you’d like to meet but might not otherwise have access to. Here is my playbook for maximizing large event networking:
- Go in prepared. Once you know about an event and have committed to attending, set a goal. Is there one person (or two? or more?) whom you believe might be there? If so, seek out that individual for a simple introduction. Also, have some valuable information on the tip of your tongue that can be shared with anyone you come in contact with, such as the name of a great handyman or a fabulous new restaurant, the kind of info that is useful fodder for engaging in a discussion with people you may be meeting for the first time. The few minutes that you spend preparing for these events will pay dividends.
- Look at the event as an invitation to join the inner circle. One of my most loyal blog supporters is my childhood friend, Jack. He’s a law professor at the University of Southern California who has been promoting my blog to his students and colleagues. He tells me that while networking can be challenging for graduate students, with a little effort, it can be done, especially if they take the Coffee-Lunch-Coffee structure and adapt it for their fields of study and/or professional interests. He uses the example of the law firm recruiting process, which is highly routinized and leaves little room for networking as a tool for job seekers. That said, he suggests that law students attending continuing education and related networking events that lawyers go to, which often have reduced or even free admission for law students. There, the students can meet and get to know people in their industry as a means of getting into the business. The same holds true whether you are a law student, a financial planner, a corporate executive, a freelance writer, or a sales rep. Don’t know where to look for networking events? Start with your local Chamber of Commerce or Rotary Club. Find a relevant industry trade or special interest organization for your industry, or your desired customers’ industries. Ask someone you admire which events they attend…perhaps even ask if you can accompany them next time.
- What do you Share and Take Away? I recommend the following: at a networking event, your goal should be to identify and connect with a few key contacts. The goal is not to come home with as many business cards as possible, but to come away with cards from a few people with whom you want to follow up. And by the way, don’t forget your business cards, and to exchange them with your contacts. But do restrict that to cards only—no resumes, business plans or other marketing collateral. (That can come later.)
- Once you are on the scene… This is what I will cover tomorrow with a little help from my friend and mentor, Eric Morgenstern of Morningstar Communications, who does a great talk on tips for networking events. I will share his list with you then, but just to tease up the notion, his first tip is: Wear a name tag and affix it on your right hand side lapel. That makes it easier for your contacts to discreetly recall (and later remember) your name when they go to shake your hand. More tomorrow…