For people who don’t like business networking, now is the best time to get out there and brave the waters!
Because just about every networking meeting this month is going to have a holiday theme (if it isn’t a full on party!).
And who doesn’t like going to parties?
The atmosphere is guaranteed to be light, making it easier to strike up conversations. It’s the perfect opportunity to try visiting a group or organization that you’ve been interested in for a while.
(For example, I’m interested in rubbing shoulders with people in certain industries for professional reasons so I’m headed off to a tech organization’s shindig tomorrow night and I’m eyeballing one geared towards the finance industry next week.)
With a drink in their hand and thoughts of Christmas bonuses dancing in their heads, attendees will naturally be more friendly and approachable!
Now if you’re one of those “Bah, Humbugs!” who get frustrated at networking events and think they are a waste of time is, sorry to say this, but it’s probably because you’re not doing it right.
After organizing and executing 100+ networking events in Atlanta since 2010 (not to mention attending about as many), I’ve learned a thing or two about how to get the most out of the experience.
You should always have a gameplan for the networking events you attend. You must understand your reasons for attending, know what types of people you’d like to meet, and have a plan for following up.
So before you lace up your party shoes and head out the door, review these nine tips for making sure you get more out of the experience than just having a great time.
What kinds of people (what roles/positions do they have) are you looking to connect with? Are you looking to make industry connections to scout out a new position for yourself? Are you looking to partner up with companies on certain types of projects? Do you want to make connections that will lead to more sales? Whatever your reasons for attending, be sure you are clear on the outcomes you want to see.
Next, set a target of how many conversations you want to have . Will it be three quality, in-depth conversations or maybe fifteen brief introductions? Set your goal and the rule is you can’t bail on the event until you’ve reached or exceeded it.
The event will have a set beginning and end time. Make it a point to arrive early, if not on time as the best quality conversations tend to happen when fewer people are around. If you’ve determined ahead of time that you will only stay for 90 minutes, then you have a time limit in which to meet your objective from tip #1. These two parameters will help you stay focused and not be stuck in meaningless conversations.
Find out if your party organizers want you to wear silly Santa hats, ugly Christmas sweaters or semi-formal attire. Networking is tough enough. You don’t want to be the odd-girl (or guy) out as soon as you walk through the door!
I can’t tell you how frustrated I get every time I go to networking events and I ask for someone’s card… then they say they don’t have any!
I know a lot of people have an aversion to those sleazy networkers who just want to shove a business card in your face and take yours without so much as a hello, but we can’t let a few weirdos ruin networking for everyone else.
Business cards are still useful because they can be a physical reminder of who you spoke to and what you talked about. After an interaction, I make a note on the back of the person’s card (if they gave me one!) about our conversation and the reason I want to follow up with them. But because so many people don’t walk with business cards, I also keep a small notebook in my purse to make notes as a backup for making notes.
In lieu of business cards, people tend to whip out their phones and try finding you on LinkedIn right away. I’m not a fan of the practice, but hey, when in Rome!
Make use of the cigaret lighter phone charger in your car on your way to an event and arrive with a full battery. You’ll likely be connecting on social all night. Or looking up companies or other references people mention. Besides, it’s a holiday themed get together… there are bound to be dozens of selfie-worthy moments!
Nobody ever wants to be the subject of THAT kind of story about a party… you know, the one people talk about for years to come in hushed, unflattering tones??
Stick to a two drink minimum: it is a business event after all. You don’t want to ruin your reputation within a community by being hammered before you’ve had a chance to properly establish it.
Conversation starters are the “get-out-of-a-boring-conversation-free” card of networking and other social events.
How else do you plan on approaching a room full of strangers in hopes of striking up a conversation that will ultimately lead to the advancement of your career??
Go prepared with three or four business related or personal questions (that can’t be answered with a “yes” or “no”) you can use to lead off your conversations with (or insert when you come to a dead silence) besides the dreaded,“What do you do?” question.
Think along these lines:
Some networking conversations come to a natural and pleasant end. Others seem like they’re going to drag on past closing… and then attempt round two at the local bar!
You don’t want to be outright rude to your new connection; you have no idea how that might come back to bit you later, especially in small circles. Instead, be prepared to gently but firmly cut the conversation cord. You can make it holiday themed if you want, or drop the cuteness if you’re dying to escape!
Think along these lines:
If you don’t plan on following up (and follow through on that plan), you would have wasted your time. But not everyone needs to be followed up with the same way.
If you’ve received a business card or if you’re taking physical notes, assign everyone you meet an A, B, or C. Here’s the key:
You might not want to do this labeling in front of their face, but don’t feel bad about prioritizing your time. Don’t promise to follow up with someone if you don’t see any immediate or near future use for your connection. If there is someone you really want to stay connected with, take out your phone and set a follow-up appointment on the spot: they’ll be more likely to keep it.
Even though these tips have a little bit of a holiday theme to them, you can certainly use them year round. What are some of your networking hacks that you like to use? Share with me in the comments!
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