Networking events can feel a lot like first dates: We worry about how we look, how to make interesting conversations and how to leave a good impression. At large conferences and meetings, the sheer amount of people in your proximity can be overwhelming when it comes to initiating a meaningful encounter. However, with the right preparation and mindset, you can find yourself building a professional network in unexpected and meaningful ways.
Set your goals ahead of time. Preparing for a networking event can seem daunting, but doing your research and setting achievable goals will help you enter the event feeling confident instead of overwhelmed. Committing to speak to a specific number of people can help you feel accomplished at the event’s conclusion rather than
Avoid thinking, “What’s in it for me?” This can seem counterintuitive, because networking is all about building a team of beneficial resources and support. However, connections should be established from a place of generosity, not desperation. When you’re only trying to help yourself, people notice.
Make genuine conversation.
Be insightful. Responding thoughtfully to someone’s questions or challenges can help make your connection more memorable. Back up your responses with unique stories or personal experiences to give your conversation novelty. It’s important to assure a connection that you’re paying attention and not just going through the motions.
Offer to help. Selflessness is the key to becoming a respected connection. Strive to learn how you can help rather than be helped. If you can’t think of a response to a question or problem right away, do some research and follow up within a day. Even if your new connection doesn’t have a pressing challenge requiring your assistance, you can leave knowing you’ve established your worth and created an opportunity to follow up in the future.
Embrace your story. Your experience outside of the professional world is an important asset to leaving a memorable impression. In fact, many experts suggest avoiding business talk at first. Finding common ground can help ease tension on both sides and create curiosity in your professional perspective—just be sure to find topics that are more compelling than the weather.
Build long-lasting connections.
Focus on quality over quantity. Networking gets a bad reputation for being a calculated game of handing out business cards. Indeed, being a “card thruster” can be the worst move to make. Instead, take the time to establish a few strong connections that you’re confident you can follow up with.
Keep follow-up messages brief. Your networking follow-ups should be designed to elicit a response. Keep messages short, and present a clear next step to your connection. Did you offer to help with a specific challenge or to connect them to someone who can? Perhaps you want to continue a conversation or get to know them better. In any case, it’s best to follow the age-old advice to be bright, be brief and be gone.
Much like dating, becoming successful at networking involves embracing the practice. Accept that you will make mistakes and that some connections will not turn out as well as you’d hoped. With time and experience, your resilience and great professional relationships will prevail!
What other tips do you have for successful networking at meetings and conferences? Let us know!