What’s the Best Way to Network? Your Way!
In Public Speaking Tip 66: Choose a Networking Strategy that Works for YOU, Whether You’re an Introvert or an Extravert, you’ll learn about the wide range of attitudes and expectations that people bring to networking.
Whether you’re the kind of networker who likes to meet everyone in the room, or someone who’s happy if they’ve had one conversation, these tips will help you network more effectively.
Choose the tips that fit your style and go for it!
1. For Targeted Networking, Make Your List and Check It Twice
Many conferences, and some shorter events, offer lists of who’s planning to attend. If you like having a specific game plan, read the list beforehand and pick the person (or people) you most want to meet.
Then reach out to that person. A quick, casual email (with a link to learning more about you, and a specific request) works best:
I’m a forestry student and a fan of your work on wildfires. I’d love to meet you at the conference next week; would 5pm on Friday work for you?
If you don’t hear back from them, don’t get discouraged. Assume they’re just busy, go up to them at the conference, say hello, and remind them of your invitation. And most of all…
Most of all — whether you’ve got a scheduled meeting or not — plan for your conversation. Learn more about them and write down the questions you would most like to ask. That way, even if you get flustered, you’ll lay the groundwork for a new, productive relationship.
2. If You Favor the Informal, Try Networking by the Numbers
Not all of us network naturally. (That story in Tip 66 about me hiding in the bathtub is true. 🙂 ) If that also describes you, it helps to have a numeric goal so that you know when you’ve networked “enough.”
Here’s my personal “networking by the numbers” rule:
- Show up whenever you want (in other words, being late is not an excuse to ditch the event).
- Talk to 3 people.
- Stay for 40 minutes.
With those things accomplished, I’m free to go. And if these goals sound overly modest, I’ll just say that:
- They help me feel less intimidated about walking into a room full of strangers, and
- I’ve made wonderful, wonderful friends and contacts using this method!
3. Make a Fashion Statement
Fashion is often regarded as a female thing, but since I once heard two men bond for ten minutes over their preferred brand of sunglasses (Oakleys), I know this tip can work for people of any gender:
- Wear something that other people can talk about. If you own an interesting scarf, watch, pair of shoes, pair of earrings, pair of cuff links, bag, hat, or other accessory, wear it. This gives people an opportunity to come up to you with a compliment that jumpstarts a networking conversation.
- Bright colors and stand-out accessories are also helpful when someone at an event wants to describe you, as in,
That guy in the awesome hat over there? We just had a really interesting conversation. Maybe you should go talk to him…
And when you’re the person who wants to start a conversation with a compliment, don’t worry about being original or clever. Just say something simple and sincere, like:
Your earrings are wonderful. Do you mind my asking where you got them?
That’s a really cool hat!
Wow, that dress is lovely on you!
One caveat: This approach works best when you speak matter-of-factly. That way, your innocent compliment won’t be mistaken for flirting. And of course, use your judgment about who it makes sense to speak to this way!
4. Find a Friendly Face
Lots of people believe that, for networking to “count,” it has to be hard. But in fact, the opposite is true: People who are easy to approach are often incredibly interesting.
So instead of trying to break in on a group of friends who’ve known each other since high school, talk to someone who’s standing alone. Or someone who’s on the edge of the action. Or the person in front of you on the registration line, or next to you at the buffet table.
People who are introverted, shy, or just momentarily by themselves will appreciate you taking the initiative, and are likely to give you a warm response.
5. Break Out (or Build Up) Your Small Talk Skills
Small talk goes with networking like… well, they go together.
So even if small talk isn’t your favorite thing, take a few minutes to understand and master the ritual. (These three articles will show you exactly how it’s done.)
Think of small talk as the first baby step that will lead you to more interesting conversations.
6. Follow Up with Intention
Networking is the start of new relationships, so the next step matters. To make sure you’re building for the future:
- Exchange contact info. I’m a big fan of business cards — write down some reminders about the person on the back of their card — but however you do it, make sure you know how to reach them.
- If you have a mailing list, ask to put them on it, and ask to be put on theirs.
- Follow up with a quick note. You can invite your new contact for coffee or a meal. You can send them an article or cartoon that was prompted by your conversation. Or you can just say something simple, like,
It was great to meet you last night at [name of event], and I look forward to learning more about your work.
Try It… You’ll Like It!
Networking is a permanent fact of business life.
Whether you relish it, or dread it, meeting new people, making connections, and growing your circle of contacts (and even friends) is not going out of style anytime soon.
So find the approach to networking that works best for you, and put it to work. The more you can get used to this type of interaction, the more easy (and maybe even fun) it will be.