This post was originally published on Third Sector Today and is being posted here with permission.
You curled your hair and put on your patent leather shoes. You even put on lipstick without your mom’s permission. You are ready for your first junior high dance. Will you ask Bobby to slow dance or stand near the wall with friends? Will you go near the chip bowl, or do you not want to run into Mr. Smead, the algebra teacher/chaperone? This dance was supposed to be fun, but it is turning into one awkward night.
Do you notice any similarities to a networking event? Have you ever hoped to become a better networker than when you were in junior high?
Regardless of your feelings about networking events, they do exist for some beneficial reasons. Strategic Business Networking mentions that increasing your visibility and making relationships that can lead to partnerships and positive references down the line are two top reasons. Certainly, you can network online, but human contact, which includes a solid handshake, give-and-take dialogue with visual cues, and live energy, offers invaluable merit.
Once you have preached the mantra that “Networking will work for me,” consider the following five tips to become a better networker:
- Establish a routine and a personal reason for attending a networking event. There is often a family situation or extra work to do, but like doing crunches or running, you need to make time for it. Perhaps you schedule it in your phone to attend one networking event per month. It is unnecessary, and unproductive, to attend every event that comes your way! Be choosy. Considering why you want to attend a particular event will help kick things into perspective. For example, do you want to meet a particular person in your field or find new hires for your organization?
- See where your colleagues and friends are networking. Ask them in meetings or check out their Facebook posts. If you have to attend a function, you might as well go with people you know and respect. Of course, you probably should not remain glued to their sides all night! (Sometimes, it might be beneficial to separate and attend different events, only to come together afterward to share your experiences and newfound information.) U.S. News & World Report suggests seeking networking events on LinkedIn and Eventbrite, among other sites.
- If applicable, pay for the networking event’s admission in advance. Nothing says “I will attend this event no matter what” like putting in some upfront, hard-earned money. You secure not only your attendance but also your mental attitude about attending the event.
- Set a time limit for your attendance. If you tell yourself you only need to go for the first hour or have one cocktail (lessens the chance of intoxication, too!), then you have set low-pressure, achievable goals. If you end up engaged in a stimulating conversation with the executive director of an organization you admire, then you have gone above and beyond your own expectations!
- Prepare before and follow up after the event. Research the specifics of the event and even any attendees or speakers of note. Consider a clever opening line or icebreaker. Be able to state who you are and what you do creatively and succinctly. Have your business cards, your organization’s brochures, or a resume/portfolio ready, depending on the situation. Ask intelligent and relevant questions. Listen. After the event, stay true to your word about “grabbing coffee” or “staying in touch” with any new professional contacts. Send an email with possible dates for coffee or a website link of interest to your contact, based on your conversation.
Junior high may be over, but many phobias still ring true. However, unlike the dance, which probably just impacted your three years in junior high, a networking event could benefit your career, which is the rest of your life. So, put on that lipstick (mom does not care anymore!), and have fun talking about what you love to do for a living.