If you are shy or socially awkward, you probably hate networking. Even if you find it difficult to approach professionals in your field, you can still alleviate some of the stress with these ten useful networking tips.
1 Know who will be there.
To be forewarned is to be forearmed. Knowing the attendees in advance gives you the chance to beef up on the company’s goals and show interest in its latest achievements. It also removes the fear of the unknown. Naturally, some people you weren’t expecting will turn up. However, as they say, half a loaf is better than no bread. Start off talking to the people you prepared for until you feel confident enough to approach the others.
2 Ask open-ended questions.
To avoid awkward silence, aim for open-ended questions rather than yes-no questions. Listen carefully to the response and try to think of a follow-up comment or question to keep the conversation going. If someone asks you a question, “And you?” is an easy way to continue the discussion.
3 Set definite goals for the interaction.
Don’t you love playing a video game and hearing the words: “Level complete!” You can generate that feeling at networking events by setting interpersonal goals. For instance, commit to staying at least a half hour. After the time is up, leave without guilt. Or, set a goal to talk to at least five new people. Setting objectives makes networking events seem less overwhelming because you have a manageable goal in mind. Also, you might find that once you get the ball rolling, you can push yourself past the minimums that you set.
4 Arrive early.
If big groups freak you out, it’s best to come while the crowd is still thin. Besides being quieter, a room with few people is less intimidating than one packed from wall to wall. Punctuality also gives you a conversational advantage. You’ll find it easier to approach others if they aren’t already in the throes of conversation.
5 Find the connection.
What do you have in common with the person with whom you are conversing? In 1929, Frigyes Karinthy proposed that each individual in the world is only six or fewer steps away from any other person. Granted, there were fewer people on earth back then, but you should be able to find some common ground. Did you major in the same subject? Do you share hobbies or causes? Challenging yourself to find the connection will motivate you to keep the conversation flowing. As a bonus, you will have a great excuse to exchange contact information with your new buddy. Later, you will feel comfortable asking for advice or a job referral. If you really hit it off, you can invite your contact to an event that you think you will both enjoy.
6 Have a few emergency ice-breakers ready.
If you find a conversation going stagnant, plan a few interesting ice-breakers. In a small group, you might try a getting-to-know-you game that involves everyone. The following idea comes from EventManager Blog: Ask everyone to think of one word that describes a topic of your choice. (For a group of doctors, for instance, you might choose “medical school.”) The responses should give you some laughs and opportunities to share experiences.
7 Look approachable.
The extroverts will flock to you if you look welcoming. Smile and try to make eye contact. Practice open body language. That means no folded arms or hiding behind your hair! This warm, friendly demeanor will make others want to find out who you are.
8 Rely on your tribe.
Why go at it alone? Invite colleagues and associates to attend networking events with you. Even if you don’t spend much time with them, their friendly faces will make you feel at ease. You can also practice your elevator pitch with people you know and ask them for feedback before the event.
9 Make a good last impression, even if the first one wasn’t ideal.
Even if you felt like you failed to impress in person, you still have a chance to shine on paper. Send a brief thank you note or email to show how much you enjoyed meeting the participant. You can thank them for taking time to talk with you. Once you make contact, you can update them about the status of your job search (or ask them about theirs if they are a jobseeker too.)
10 Follow through on referrals.
If you fail to follow through on referrals, you are letting all your hard work go to waste. A lack of response also shows disrespect for the people who vouched for you. Even if you don’t accept a job, you should still thank the referrer and the hiring manager for their time.
Networking is necessary, and it doesn’t have to be evil! Admit it; these networking tips won’t be impossible to try. Which one do you want to tackle first?