When you meet someone for the first time, it’s easy to seek safety in a quick, generic introduction followed by some uninspired small talk. After a few moments, however, these types of conversations usually dwindle down to nothing. Why? Because nobody’s saying anything important or stimulating.
Granted, in situations with random strangers you’ll likely never see again, these meaningless exchanges probably don’t matter as much. But when you depend on networking to help you secure a better job and a brighter financial future, what you say — and what you do — definitely matters.
To increase your chances of success, take a look at these networking strategies that are known to work because investing in yourself could be the best investment you make all year.
Know Who You Want To Talk To at Events
Consult the program of the networking event to learn who are the presenters and attendees, then figure out which ones you’d like to meet.
The next step? Do some research. Google each person’s name to turn up related news about them or their business website. Also, check out their LinkedIn profiles and social media sites.
Or, leverage your network to connect with someone who knows the person you want to meet — or at the very least, knows someone who knows the person. These connections also can provide you with background information for your prospective meeting.
By doing so, you can find some common ground that will make it easier to connect and have a meaningful and results-driven conversation.
Work On Your Elevator Pitch
If you’re attending a networking event, there likely will be a crowd. And just as soon as you approach the person you’re dying to speak with, there’s a good chance that someone else will walk up with the same goal.
Create an elevator pitch before the day of the event that can help you capture the person’s attention and generate interest in learning more about you. Coming up with a compelling sentence or two will let the person know who you are and the talents you have to offer.
Reframe Your Perspective
If the prospect of networking fills you with dread, try tricking yourself into thinking about it in a more enjoyable way. Reframe your perspective of networking from it being an anxiety-filled challenge to gain the attention of certain people and instead think of it as an opportunity to socialize and make connections with people who could become future friends.
By approaching it in a more relaxed way, you’ll reduce the stress that results from thinking of networking as a do-or-die proposition.
Think Baby Steps — Not Trial By Fire
When networking, don’t view your first conversation with someone as a one-shot deal. Although you want to make a good first impression, also think about how you can build on the connection.
Handing over or accepting a business card isn’t enough. Instead, ask to swap phones so you can share contact information, or ask for social media handles to connect that way if it makes more sense.
Avoid Surefire Disaster
A mental trick might not be enough in some situations, and not every networking scenario will be the best choice for you. If the prospect of approaching someone you want to meet in a large, open room that’s buzzing with hundreds of people vying for attention sounds like your own personal nightmare, think about opting out.
Carefully consider how different networking scenarios make you feel and avoid those that have the potential to make you uncomfortable. Instead, choose opportunities that inspire confidence, such as smaller, more intimate gatherings or locales.
Increase Your Chance of Success
Consider attending networking events with a friend who can help you connect with people who could turn into beneficial contacts for either one or both of you. With this divide-and-conquer approach, you’ll widen your net and capture more contacts.
Get There Early
You’ve likely heard the saying, “The early bird gets the worm,” and the same holds true at networking events. By showing up ahead of time, you can preview name tags at the registration table, glean information about the event or even catch the people you’re interested in meeting for a short chat as they arrive.
Seek Out the Speaker Beforehand
If you arrive early and you’re interested in meeting one of the scheduled speakers, try to connect then. Once the speaker’s presentation is over, other attendees will clamor for face-to-face time, and that could make it very difficult for you to have your own meaningful moment.
Be Mindful About Where You Stand
It’s fine to circulate throughout the room at an event, but when you decide to stop, do so with a strategy. Don’t hang out on the fringes of the room where you are unlikely to be noticed. Instead, consider standing in more well-lit and well-traveled areas — or even standing near the refreshment table.
An advantage of being by the food is that eating causes the release of endorphins in the brain, which are associated with euphoria. And when people are happy, they could be more receptive to having a conversation.
Get Someone To Introduce You
If you have the good fortune of being with a colleague who knows the person you want to meet, ask for an introduction. Your colleague can introduce you by way of who you are and what your talents are.
This works twofold. First, it helps you sidestep any awkwardness because you don’t have to shoulder the responsibility of introducing yourself to someone you might find intimidating. Your colleague also can help to boost your credibility.
Avoid Standard Conversation Starters
It’s easy to fall back onto questions such as, “What do you think about this weather we’ve been having?” or “How was the traffic on your way here?” The problem with these standard small talk topics is that they quickly lead nowhere, and you might lose the opportunity to ask the question that ultimately can help you climb the career ladder.
The good news is that making the most of small talk is a relatively easy fix. According to a series of conversation experiments conducted by Harvard researchers, you can elevate your small talk skills and be instantly more likable if you ask the person you’re speaking with more meaningful follow-up questions after your initial greeting.
In learning how to make small talk, instead of saying, “How are you?” after your initial greeting, try asking questions that will encourage an engaging rapport. Consider asking about a project you know the person has been involved in or inquiring about major life events you’re aware of through your research, such as a promotion or a recent move.
Make Eye Contact
When you’re speaking with someone, it’s important to keep eye contact. If you’re scanning the crowd or looking off into the distance, you’re sending the message that you’re distracted and not fully invested in the conversation.
Holding eye contact for a few seconds at a time before nodding, tilting your head or briefly breaking eye contact by naturally glancing away and looking back again are all appropriate ways to show you’re engaged.
Allow Yourself To Focus On Others
Be careful not to hog the spotlight and talk only about yourself. Yes, you want the person you’re networking with to know who you are and what you’re all about, but keep your explanation to your elevator pitch to avoid coming off as a chatterbox.
If you find the conversation is waning, ask an open-ended question to get the other person talking, such as something related to the person’s work role or something career-related that your research turned up. Or, on a more general note, you could ask what attracted this mover and shaker to the event you’re both attending.
Mention Positive, Personal News
If you’re networking with someone whom you consider a mentor, share a bit of your own news as a way to bring her up to speed on what’s been going on in your life. Any successes you’ve had or interesting happenings are good conversation topics. Bringing up something you recently did that made you think of your mentor — or mentioning a way you were able to use your mentor’s advice — also are engaging ways to keep the conversation going.
Don't Be Afraid To Be Animated
Your delivery is important no matter if you’re speaking with someone you know or someone you just met. Even if you’re telling what could be considered an interesting story, people quickly can lose interest if you seem unenthusiastic, delivering it in a low-key fashion with a monotone voice.
Smile, raise your eyebrows and use hand gestures. All of these actions can draw people in and keep them interested in engaging with you.
In networking situations where you have the time to establish a comfortable rapport with the person, you can switch gears and talk about something more meaningful. For example, if you’re speaking with a mentor, and you want to gauge how he feels about serving as a future reference for you, say something like, “I have a few different places I’m planning to apply within the next few months, and I’d love it if you would be willing to speak on my behalf as a reference.”
Pump Up Your Mood
Unless you’re a rare breed, even the anticipation of networking situations can be mentally draining. Fortunately, there are a couple of ways to combat feeling down before and after networking events.
Before you go, get together with friends or family members who inspire you and make you feel happy to elevate your mood. You also can try to attend or schedule networking opportunities for later in the day, instead of early in the work day, when you can look forward to meeting up with your best pals when you get done.
If the people you enjoy being around aren’t available, do something that makes you happy, before or after your event. For example, have an indulgent treat, get a massage or make a date with yourself that includes your favorite take-out and a movie you adore.
Why Networking Is Worthwhile
A key part of the word “networking” happens to be “work,” and it’s true that you’ll have to put in the effort to gain any ground. If the perceived effort seems more than what you think the payoff could be, you might want to reconsider.
By using the aforementioned strategies, you can increase your chances of having successful networking experiences, which can lead to fruitful opportunities or other beneficial connections. But if you’re still not convinced, here are some reasons why networking is a worthwhile pursuit.
It Can Inspire You
Although you might think where you are today in your career is the highest position you’ll achieve or you can’t ever picture yourself doing anything else, networking can serve as inspiration.
Meeting others who have been down the same career path as you but have risen to greater heights can help you to envision the possibilities. Plus, you might meet people who are outside of your industry, with your same qualifications, who are doing something interesting that you’ve never considered.
It Can Serve as a Resource
Networking opportunities often lead to a bank of resources that you can draw on, allowing you to share in the experiences of people both in and outside your industry. Each contact you make has a unique history that you can learn from, as well as the ability to refer you to others based on your expertise.
It Can Provide You With Friends in High Places
Connections with people in higher places — with more financial resources, experience and enviable contacts — are good to have. Sometimes in your career, you’ll face challenges that you won’t be able to solve efficiently — or at all — without outside guidance. Networking can introduce you to the type of person who can help you or connect you with someone else who can.
It Can Build Your Self-Confidence
Not many people enjoy putting themselves out there to make new connections. It takes a lot of work to network effectively, but doing so has both professional and personal benefits. When you see that the effort you put into gaining a business contact pays off with a glowing recommendation or a new client, your self-confidence will soar.
It Helps You Grow Your Reputation
It takes an appearance at more than one networking event to build your network. That’s why it’s worth putting in the work to attend multiple conferences, mixers and seminars. The more people you meet, and the more ideas you share, the greater the opportunity you have to build your reputation.
Make it a goal to be as knowledgeable, professional and personable as you can while networking to establish yourself as someone worthy of attention and future referrals.
It Allows You To Help Others
Networking also gives you a chance to provide others with help and expertise. Just as you can gain from people who are more experienced and connected than you — you, too, are more advanced than someone else. Think of it as a way to give back for all the support you’ve received on your journey.
It Gives You Chance To Validate Your Ideas
Take advantage of the opportunity of being in a room with like-minded professionals to bounce ideas off of them. You can ask for feedback on projects you’re thinking of pitching or seek input when you must solve a work-related problem. The opinions or advice from other professionals can help you gain a different perspective, which can propel you to success.
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About the Author
Cynthia Measom is a Texas-based writer specializing in finance, business, parenting and education. With almost a decade of online writing experience, her work has appeared on websites such as Chron.com, The Bump and The Motley Fool. Measom received a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Texas at Austin.