by Allyn Lewis
We all know networking is important to having a successful career, but how is networking actually done? Making small talk is not always easy. I keep seeing posts like, “An Introvert’s Guide to Networking” and the labeling gets to me. It doesn’t matter if you identify as an introvert or an extrovert, sometimes striking up a conversation is a piece of cake; other times it’s like pulling teeth. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve committed to going to an event that I’m so excited for at the time. Then, the day comes and I’m exhausted to the point where the thought of bubbling around the room passing around business cards seems like torture.
1.) Go to networking events by yourself.
I know *gasp*, yes I said by yourself. When you head out solo, you’re not tempted to cling to your group or the business pal you brought with you. I think there’s something really powerful about the girl on the sidelines, confidently analyzing the room – eyeing up potential connections. She’s comfortable with standing alone on her own two feet without feeling the need to kill awkward time on her iPhone or jump into a conversation with people she’s already familiar with. Hello, the key to networking is meeting new people.
2.) Remember, you are not the only person in the room who feels shy.
By standing your ground and settling in the moment without needing a distraction, you’ll be more approachable to someone else who is struggling with diving into conversations, too. I have made numerous connections being real. I’ll see someone else by themselves and say something like, “Oh my goodness, I’m feeling so awkward. I don’t know anyone here!” Two things have come out of this – 1) they’re like “umm yeah me too” and all of a sudden we bond over the awkwardness we’re both feeling and keep chatting, or 2) the person is like, “I came with a great group over there, let me introduce you to everyone.” No one has ever responded to me saying, “whoa, you are such a loser because you don’t know anyone.”
3.) If that’s a bit too bold of an approach for you…
Give someone a genuine compliment to get a conversation going. People LOVE compliments. It works – every. single. time. Plus, it’s really rewarding to give someone a compliment. I love seeing their face light up and knowing I put that smile on it! It’s as easy as, “I had to come chat with you because I adore your ________ (shoes, purse, suit jacket, hair cut, etc.) You have to tell me where you got it/them!” Last week, I had the pleasure of exploring MAGIC Market Week with one of my clients. I was so excited to connect with all the brands there, but I was nervous they would get ticked off for talking to them since I wasn’t a buyer. Literally all I did was walk to the booths I was drawn towards and gave one compliment on their pieces or products. Every conversation took off from there and I was able to add so many amazing brands to my network that I’ve already started collaborating with!
4.) People love people who listen.
It’s not always about what you say, people love to talk about themselves and their business, so don’t feel that you have to be the one carrying the conversation the entire time, or even the majority of the time. This is one of the many important lessons I learned from reading “Leave Your Mark” and I’m shocked at how true this is. Some days, networking is my favorite thing in the world – other days, my brain feels so fried that I have anxiety over not being able to come up with things to say. So, realizing how important listening is really calmed me down on days when networking seems impossible.
5.) Networking is not just about the people, optimize your efforts to gain more knowledge.
The majority of people are more than willing, and often extremely flattered, to offer up advice when asked. The trick to keep them talking and not being annoying is to ask them advice based off of what they have done. Stay away from wording things that focus on you like, “how do you think I should go about approaching X goal for Y project?” Instead try, “what element do you think was the most important in achieving X goal.” You get invaluable insight from others in the industry while they get to talk about themselves and their accomplishments – everyone wins!
6.) Setting intentions is your safety net.
One thing I do before every networking event is set an intention for what I want to learn more about. It doesn’t need to be specific, it can be just general business topics. For example, my topic for the night might be gaining insight on how other people utilize blogging. I love this because when the dreaded awkward pause comes up, I already have a starting point for what to ask next to keep the conversation going. I just think about my intention and come up with a question depending on how that topic applies to whomever I’m talking to. I might ask a sales rep if they’ve worked with bloggers before to drive sales or I might ask a small business owner if they are currently using blogging as part of their branding and marketing strategy. Even something more general like, “what are your thoughts on businesses having a blog” can spark a wonderful convo!
7.) Keep your personal pitch in your back pocket.
Come up with a few bullet points that make you the fabulous you that you are. Then, work them into the conversation casually. If you already know what your talking points are beforehand, you’ll be able to work them into the conversation without seeming self-absorbed. Talking about yourself is a lot easier when you don’t have to focus your energy on what you need to say on top of how to introduce it. Whatever you do, remember that you’re not pitching and promoting your business (or career). You need to pitch yourself. If someone can connect with you, they will take the initiative to learn more about whatever else you’re up to. People connect with people, and only then will they be able to connect with the business.
8.) It’s okay if you don’t talk about yourself.
Ideally, you want to contribute to the conversation and tell them fun facts about you so they remember who you are, but some days that’s easier said than done. Truth be told, talking about yourself can be the hardest part of networking, but guess what? You can still get so much of everything out of a conversation even if you keep the focus off of you. If you are listening and engaging with what the other person is saying, they will remember that, and thus, they will remember you just from that effort alone. We all know how difficult it is to find a good listener.
9.) THE FOLLOWUP IS EVERYTHING.
No matter what, even if you feel like you have a crappy, going-through-the-motions conversation, you need to follow up, always. After the event, I like to do a quick tweet or instagram comment saying something like, “so lovely to meet you tonight!” Then, I send email followups within 48 hours of meeting that person.
10.) Break it up.
Networking is exhausting. If you’re at a conference or event, make sure you give yourself a few breaks to clear your mind and refresh before jumping back into all the conversations. Another thing to remember – you do not need to talk to everyone in the room. If you walk out with one solid connection that you can say adds value to your network, then that event was worth it. Quality over quantity. It’s fine if you only passed out 3 business cards and not 50 if you had 3 meaningful conversations.
In business, your value isn’t determined by the size of your dreams, the amount of money you make, how many people are on your staff, or the load of clients you’re managing. Your value and how much you are worth (both internally and externally) is determined by your network – who you’re connected to and who is within your reach. Even your skill set means nothing if you don’t have a network of professionals to share them with! Happy networking. =)