Let’s talk about what Networking isn’t first.
Networking is not forcing yourself to an after hours gathering of strangers and collecting as many business cards as is humanly possible in two hours. Networking isn’t about passing out a pocketful of your own cards. And, Networking is not about overwhelming unsuspecting people with job search woes. Networking is not an embarrassing activity. It is actually possible to attend a networking event without feeling nervous and tense. Are you sure? No, that’s not possible, you are thinking.
We generally go to an event because we want to get something from other people, a job lead or meet a recruiter. Since we want something, we want them to like us. We hope they will remember us, introduce us to an important contact, or hire us! And, that starts the tension. After all, how do you know what someone likes? How do you know how to act? What can you say that is memorable?
Networking begins before you leave home. If you are dreading that association dinner, check your attitude. What is your goal? Who are you hoping to impress? Of course you want the networking event to be profitable. That’s normal. But before the event, get prepared. Think of a question or two to ask each person you meet. Remind yourself to make eye contact with those you talk with. Determine to focus on their needs, their interests. It is magical how quickly your tension will disappear.
Here’s the secret of successful networking: Walk into a room full of people and ask others about themselves. Then, listen carefully and reflect back with a few good questions about their interests. When appropriate, you might ask how you can help them. Once rapport is established, your new contact will likely ask you about yourself. Your 30 second elevator speech comes in handy at this point, and you tell them your background and what you are looking for. Your contact is actually listening to you because you have listened to them.
Because your contact has asked for your information, she will more likely pass your name along to someone else in the future. She has just experienced you as an interesting, knowledgeable, friendly individual, even a memorable person, because you are different. You cared about them, listened, and offered to be helpful. This is so rare that you will stand out in the crowd.
But there is a problem you might be thinking. What if I Iisten so well, I can’t break away? Prepare ahead for people who corner you and talk longer than you have time for. Try one of these phrases and make it your own: “Say, I have really enjoyed talking with you. I just saw someone I need to talk with over there, so I need to go.” Or, “I know you likely want to meet others at the event, so I will let you go now. Thanks, I enjoyed our conversation.” You are there to meet a variety of people. It is OK to break away and continue meeting others.
Now you are home from the event. You feel good about it, actually enjoyed it for a change. Your follow up is really the whole point of networking. Enter each business card into your contact system. Make quick notes about what you talked about. Determine your next steps. Each person should receive an email just saying, “I enjoyed meeting you at the IT Networking Event yesterday. Look forward to seeing you at future events.” That is basic. You may recall one or two stand outs who you would like to foster a relationship with. Is there an article you could send to them that could be helpful to them? Is he someone you would like to meet for coffee or lunch? The point is to decide immediately who to meet again. After a day or two, you will likely forget what you talked about, and they won’t remember you.
Real networking is simply building relationships. What you give to the other person gives you satisfaction and removes tension. Your follow up opens the door to a new relationship or beneficial contact.
Jan Shurtz can be contacted by email: firstname.lastname@example.org