You walk into a room full of people, all paired up and chatting away. Instantly self-conscious, the panic sets in. Do you run to the bar? Pretend like you are waiting for someone? Struggle to look like you know what you’re doing?
Or – the easiest go-to – just reach for your phone?
Your eyes wildly search the crowd, desperately seeking a friendly face. Finally, you find someone you know and run to their side to say hello.
Is this the first day of high school? No. This is your first networking event.
Learning the ins and outs of networking can be intimidating to say the least. If you aren’t sure where to start or if you’re looking for ways to do it better, here are 12 tips to network like a pro. You can thank us after you secure your next big job interview.
Know who’s who.
Preparing for a networking event is almost like planning for a job interview. You’ll want to research who might be at this event. Look them up online and write down everything you find out about the people you are interested in meeting. And don’t just focus on work-related points. Is their profile picture of them and their pooch? Perfect, now you know you will have something in common other than your profession. And everyone likes discussing their dogs, right?
Break that ice.
It can be difficult to start a conversation with someone you have never met. The best way to segue into a convo like this is with an introduction. Flying solo? No problem, just plan some ice breakers ahead of time. Start out easy by stating the obvious. “What a great event,” “so how do you know [the organizer]?,” or “what brings you to this event?,” are all innocent ways to start a conversation. Complimenting someone’s outfit also seems to do the trick.
What’s your story?
What do you want people to think about you when they walk away from your conversation? Being yourself is key – people will know if you are being fake (as in phoney, as opposed to faking it until you make it) – but there is nothing wrong with planning ahead for some key talking points to highlight your best self.
Know you aren’t alone.
You may feel like the only person out of place, but a lot of other people are likely feeling just as uncomfortable as you. Don’t assume that others are uninterested – they are probably looking for someone to talk to and would welcome meeting a new person. Introduce yourself with confidence and see if you can make a connection.
Set reasonable goals and expectations.
As if attending a networking event as a newbie isn’t daunting enough, you might feel pressure to speak to as many people as possible. Limiting your expectations to something more reasonable might help alleviate some anxiety going into the event. Perhaps your goal is to make a connection with one person in particular, or maybe it is to simply get your feet wet and meet new people in your profession. The more reasonable your goals are, the more successful you will feel at the end of the day.
Be one of the first to arrive and not the last to leave.
Fashionably late is not something you want to be. Those who arrive early are more likely to easily meet new people. Early comers are probably looking to start a conversation and those who are there will not be paired up yet. On the same token, you don’t want to be the last to leave. Once you have achieved your goals set above, it is time to bow out and leave them wanting more. You do not want to over linger. Or over imbibe.
Get in line.
A simple, yet effective trick. Getting in line for the coat check, bathroom, or bar is a great way to naturally meet someone. The longer the line, the better. With their choices limited to the two people beside them, people often engage in conversation when waiting in a line. It has a natural beginning and ending, so it should not feel awkward. You never know what the conversation might turn into.
Body language is key.
If you look unwelcoming, no one is going to strike up a conversation with you. I’m talking to you bitchy-rest-facers. Even if it feels weird, smile as you walk around the room. Look people in the eye, nod to acknowledge them, and be sure not to cross your arms. Stand tall and keep your shoulders back to appear confident. Sending out positive vibes might work in your favour throughout the night.
Less about me, more about you.
If talking about yourself makes you uneasy, start out by asking others about themselves. Think of easy questions. Things like food, travelling, kids or pets, might be a simple way to get the conversation rolling. Be sure to really listen and remember what they tell you. If you ask how their kids are (bonus if you remember their names) the next time you see them, they will likely be impressed. If you find you have something in common, say so. Most people remember the meaningful conversations over anything else you will tell them.
Ditch the pitch.
The point of networking is to make a personal connection that can turn into a beneficial professional relationship. You don’t want to scare someone away by jumping right into a rehearsed business proposal right off the bat. If the conversation does turn to work – as it usually does – and the other person asks you directly, then you can ease your way into a pitch. But not before they ask.
You’ve spent the night making connections and learning lots about other people, but it means nothing if you forget it all the next day. When you have ended a conversation with someone, try to discreetly write down a few points about them. Even better if you write it directly on their business card.
If you do not follow up on your new connections, what was the point of networking in the first place? Add the person on LinkedIn or send them a quick email within 48 hours of meeting them. Be sure to reference something you discussed so that they remember you. Hopefully, it will be the start of a blossoming professional relationship.