Going to a networking event can be daunting, especially if you aren’t a regular. Whether you are attending for business reasons, to make friends, or just blow off some steam, keep in mind these important tips.
Find a way to be involved in leadership
Every networking organization has a few SuperConnectors in their midst. These are the folks that have 100s of LinkedIn connections and are happy to help you out without expecting anything in return. These are the people that you want to meet, and the best place to find them is in the leadership committees and boards for the networking group. Ask around and you will find them quickly.
Caveat; Only take a leadership position if you can handle the time commitment and want to contribute. There is real work involved and it needs to be done properly.
Step out of your comfort zone and introduce yourself
Walking up to a stranger and introducing yourself can be daunting. The reason you are at a networking event is because you get to be with a bunch of people who have self-selected themselves for this type of event. That doesn’t mean that 100% of people will be your soulmate or next business partner, but you’re going to get a lot of smiles.
Even if you aren’t in a client-facing role at your current company, social skills are a key trait to develop. Being comfortable making face-to-face conversation is a key skill. If it helps, see the hour or two as a gym session for your social skills.
Follow up with the folks you meet on LinkedIn/Email
Always grab a business card and keep a pen handy to write down a detail about the person or your conversation. You should definitely have a LinkedIn profile and try to reach out to all of the people that you talked to for more than 3 minutes. Save emails for the folks who aren’t on LinkedIn or to follow up about specific intros or business opportunities that you discussed in person.
Caveat; A lot of people make a big deal out of how long to wait before following up. If you are at a huge networking event or conference, then it probably makes sense to wait 3 days or so to follow up. For a small gathering, 1 day is plenty.
Try to pitch anybody at the event
This is a really bad look. If someone asks, feel free to give a brief explanation of what you do. But you are not going to close or sell anyone at a networking event. If there is genuine interest then ask for a meeting or call another day. Pitching at these events is a turn-off and reeks of desperation.
Give up after one event
The first event can feel like the first day of high school. Regulars congregate to catch up. Newbies hang out on the periphery. Even if the first event doesn’t go so hot, things will get better at you second and third events. After three, you’ll have a solid feel for the group and be able to make a reasonable decision about continuing to attend.
Worry about meeting everybody, aka “fast-food networking”
Even at a small event, it is unlikely, and unnecessary, that you try and meet everyone. If you rush from person to person dropping business cards, you are going to be forgotten or worse, not taken seriously. If you spend a whole event talking to one or two people, this is not a loss. In fact, you probably took important steps towards forging a new friendship.Make it a goal to focus on making one or two deep human interactions per event.
Caveat; Don’t linger or butt in. Social awareness trumps all.
By using the above Do’s and Don’ts, I was able to transform my network and even take a role in leadership in my own community with Pittsburgh Young Professionals. PYP provides career minded individuals with opportunities to develop socially, professionally, and civically. As a membership committee member, I help break down the awkward invisible walls that you might experience at networking events by being a friendly and engaging co-host while encouraging first-timers to sign up for membership or to become more involved.
While I love the events, the internal committee meetings may be even better. Since jumping on board in a leadership role, I’ve quickly realized how many driven individuals make up PYP’s leadership. Watching other extremely high performers conduct themselves while putting others first is a valuable, educational experience, and I learn so much from listening and interacting with local peer leaders. Being able to play a part in PYP greatly improving its member retention and total membership has been challenging, but most importantly, it confirms to me as to why you should be involved in a leadership role within your community.
Kenny Chen (far left) has introduced me to 4 of the guests who have come on my podcast. Ryan (far right) regularly sends me inspirational articles. More importantly, I have made real friends who are invested in my success as much as I am in theirs.
Overall, through my experience with PYP and other networking groups, I’ve challenged myself to become a SuperConnector by focusing on making introductions that can benefit others first. Approaching networking with faith and a long-term mindset allows me to avoid worrying about trying to talk to everyone or not giving a social group only one chance. I know that any introductions that I make now will come from a mindset of improving the Pittsburgh young professional community, which will in turn, help me reach the next level in my own career.
Bring this mindset to your next networking event, and I’m confident you’ll find it a success.
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