Sometimes, people wonder if they even need to try to meet anyone new.
The prospect of new names to remember and boring first-time conversations can be tough for some. But if you’re growing your business, networking works.
Being more Covid-confident about mingling with strangers, I recently chose to attend a networking event even though I hate meeting new people. I know I’m not good at it, but I force myself to do it anyway. At my company (Bospar), we have a saying that we’re “politely pushy” — which means that charm and assertiveness are keys to success. When it comes to networking, being politely pushy can help make a good impression.
Prep your networking game
First, one must consider why they would want to network at all. The primary question at hand is: What are you looking for?
An understanding of one’s goals enables better targeting of networking events. I look for events that integrate my interests, including tech PR, journalism, LGBTQIA advocacy and science fiction. If an event has some of these attributes, I know that I’ll be more engaged.
Wear something that says something
I recently attended a Pride Month networking event held by Out In Tech. Rather than showing up in a Silicon Valley uniform — a hoodie and sneakers — I chose my outfit to help break the ice.
I paired my shirt with a jacket incorporating silver threads and went extra by adding sparkling crystal loafers. My sartorial choices paid off, and my wardrobe was the conversation starter that I had hoped it would be.
I’m a big believer in rehearsals. I always practice my “elevator pitch,” and when asked about my company, I play it cool.
“We started as a distributed agency years ago, representing brands like PayPal, Snowflake and Tetris, and we’ve taken several companies public. We also took on Texas over its abortion ban, and we’re leading crisis comms for SF Pride this year.”
All of these data points are something of a humble brag, so I try to provide these facts throughout a conversation rather than all at once.
When I arrive at events, I immediately get a drink because networking is a long game, and socializing in this way helps match the mood. I often approach people with a shtick and make eye contact with people who notice my wardrobe. And then I say, “Thanks, I wore them to break the ice.”
Once the ice has been broken, I engage in active listening and do my best to understand each person’s job and aspirations. I strive to spend five minutes and then excuse myself to meet other people.
Networking events mean you can be transactional and people accept that. I usually hand people my card and promise to follow up to indicate the end of the conversation. I consider it professional speed dating.
I follow a pattern during events. I take laps around the bar, looking for opportunities for an “in,” like finding a wallflower or a group needing an interruption.
I start with my typical, “Hey, I hope you don’t mind, but I really wanted to introduce myself to you.” I find that you can be a touch bossy at networking events as long as it seems there’s an engaging quality about the other person that draws you in.
There are some networking ideas that I’ve thought about stealing, like a nametag reading, “Working at Tesla — for now.”
Successful networking is really about bringing all of your skills together to connect with people. Treat each networking event like a date, and dress to be memorable. Interact quickly and often, and give others what they need from your conversations. Post-event follow-up includes connecting with new professional friends over social media and sharing photos when appropriate to firm up those connections. Sharing those posts creates a great reason to keep in touch with new peers.
By integrating these skills, networking events won’t be dreadful one-offs — they will become a powerful new tool to identify prospects and expand your network of contacts.
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