Networking events can be excruciating. There you are, huddled uncomfortably in a room, expected to chat someone up over the cheese platter in the hopes they have something or know someone who can further your career. What’s worse, the inexperienced — who so often need connections in their field — “network” like it’s their job, approaching with predictable one-liners and oozing a kind of desperation that only makes the experience more awkward for everyone.
But, then again, we all know someone who’s exceptionally great at connecting with strangers. Networking, as it turns out, is a total art form and if you master it, you’ll never be struggling for an opening line.
The truth is, most people are happy to engage, and appreciate someone else taking the lead. As long as your interest is sincere, you keep confident and relaxed, and let the banter flow, “networking” on any platform stops being unbearable, and starts becoming a natural way to interact with others. Opportunity knocks on all kinds of doors and so if you’re open to amazing possibilities in the New Year, allow yourself to start conversations with five new people this week.
Here’s how among various platforms:
While Facebook is a touch too personal for networking, Twitter is an ideal space to connect with the public and folks from all over the globe. As Farnoosh has written in the past, it’s best to narrow your scope and make a short list of companies or keywords to locate those with whom you’d like to network. Then use Twellow.com – similar to a Twitter Yellow Pages — to help you find them based on keywords in their bios. Create and name this list (though, remember that the person will be able to see what list they’re on, so keep this list name neutral). Now, it’s time to start posting. If you feel uncomfortable reaching out to others blindly, re-tweeting is a great way to begin — it’s like walking up to a group of people having an interesting confab and asking, “Hi there, can I buy a ticket to this conversation?” (not such a bad line for real life, too!). However, you have a better shot at getting a response at a re-tweet if you add a personal comment. Better yet, start a dialogue. Compliment someone on a great post, link or update, and then ask them an open-ended question. After a few weeks of correspondance, it’s okay to send them a direct Tweet or even ask if you can take the conversation to email or even Skype, where a more personal connection can be made.
One of the best ways to meet people here is to offer your assistance via your list of contacts. You may not realize how truly valuable your network can be to someone you’ve never met.
Of course, LinkedIn was made for networking, but it only really works if you know how to use the specific tools of this platform. For example, try posting — and answering — questions for the community at large. Go to the “Answers” home page and type in a topic you’re interested in. The more you interact with others on a subject of common interest, the easier it will be to keep that dialogue open and see how you might benefit from knowing one another. If you have a premium account ($39.95 / month with an annual subscription) you get 10 “InMails” a month, which means you can view full profiles and send direct messages to anyone on LinkedIn, not just people in your network. In fact, the site even guarantees you’ll get a response. If the person doesn’t write you back within 7 days, LinkedIn will credit your account.
LinkedIn also has a feature called “Signal” which can be used to connect with your 2nd and 3rd level connections and beyond — it can actually open your reach to millions. On your home page, see “All Updates” — on the right there’s a magnifying glass. By clicking on it and doing a search you can use a series of filters to choose what updates to see–what level of connection you want to view, in what location, etc. Start conversations with anyone by commenting on their updates. It’s as easy as “Hi Joe, I notice you worked for XYZ Company in your past. I’m considering applying for a job there, and I”m wondering if you can offer me any advice…”
In person, addressing some common ground – like how funny the speaker was or the fact you had to wait 20 minutes to get a drink at the bar — can always help crack the ice. When in doubt consider opening with: ”I suppose name-tags are useful in this context but man, I feel a little silly. I’d rather just introduce myself….” Or, “Is it quieter on this side of the room? It’s getting a little noisy over there. I’m Sarah, by the way.”
Large conferences can often be logistically overwhelming, so if you’re a first-time attendee ask people for assistance. It can be an easy way to start a conversation. And don’t forget a smooth closing statement for when you’re ready to move on, like “It’s been great talking to you, Cindy, would love to connect with you in the future. Here’s my card.”
And then DO follow up. Gathering business cards at events is great, but what’s better is getting one with an appointment or follow-up call written on the back. When people attend networking events they often distribute and collect piles of business cards. Ensure yours doesn’t end up faceless or forgotten. Immediately follow-up with an email thanking them for the conversation and suggesting an opportunity to speak further. Many folks stop at gathering cards and never “get the meeting,” simply because they don’t follow up.
Dinner Party with Strangers
“Do you know what’s good on the menu in here?” or, “How do you know Jack and Anna?” can ease a group into conversation. And, while some advise steering clear of personal topics as you’re getting to know strangers, I disagree — personal tidbits about your life, the funny things your kids did or said, or details about your hobbies are a great window into your personality. Of course, don’t say anything you wouldn’t say in front of your boss (until you get to know someone better), but still — letting down your guard can encourage others to do the same, too. To get the conversation going in both directions, questions like, “So what did you do today?” or “Where did you grow up?” are great invitations for someone to share.
Remember, networking is all about being game for whatever the relationship has to offer, whether it’s friendship or business.
Stay open and start a new conversation today!
Photo courtesy of: Flicker/business meeting/8284