Relax, it’s Just a Networking Event!

This is my final post on the topic of networking this week.  I really hope that my message is clear: networking seems intimidating, but it begins with a conversation, and that’s really all it is.  So just get out there!

A few things to keep in mind about Networking Events:

1. Just say hello!

When you arrive at your first networking event, you’ll do whatever feels right: you’ll check your coat, you’ll grab a drink, and you’ll stand awkwardly trying to decide what to do with yourself.  Instead, once you’ve checked your coat and grabbed a drink (alcoholic or not, because you know you`ll be doing a lot of talking), make your way into the room.  Once you catch someone’s gaze, just walk up to them and say ‘hello, I’m ____.’  It’s as easy as that, I promise!

Next thing you know, you’ll see the same look of relief in your new contact’s eyes that mirror your own.  You decided to show up because you want to make new contacts.  Well surprise, so has everyone else!  So don’t let these like-minded networkers intimidate you.

2. Bring business cards, but don’t hand them out like candy on Halloween

Networking is about building relationships.  Having said that, how many relationships have you begun by handing out a card?  You bring business cards so that your contacts can communicate with you after you part ways.  They’re a medium for conversation, not the conversation themselves.  So bring business cards, but only really expect to hand out five at the most.

I have a horrible memory, but I’m a writer, and a visual learner.  So a trick I have to remember the people I meet is to write notes on the business cards they give me.  That way I can relay some topic that we discussed at our next meeting.

3. Connect with your new contacts within 24 hours

I know I`m not alone when I say I have a horrible memory.  When you have conversations with ten different people in an evening, and then seemingly-random people contact you via email the next day, it`s hard to connect email addresses and names to faces.  So be courteous to your new contacts and send them an email, give them a call, or add them on LinkedIn within 24 hours of meeting them.

I`ve read a number of books about networking over the years, and a common theme nowadays is that lots of people despise networking events.  Why?  Because they feel pressured to meet each person in attendance, and because networking events just feel fake and forced.  But these feelings are unfounded.

You don’t HAVE to meet every person in the room to have a meaningful evening.  In fact, your conversations will be more meaningful if you spend your time with fewer people.  To the issue of feeling fake and forced, as if networking is a shallow practice, remember that it’s an exercise in communication.  So the value of your networking experience will be equal to the exercise of your communication skills.

Networking events may not be for you.  You may prefer scheduling informational interviews, or simply coffee/lunch meetings.  Just remember that networking is about building relationships one conversation at a time, and you’ll be fine.

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