In the real world, it takes more than raw talent to succeed career-wise. You need to know the right people to get ahead and networking helps you do that. Follow these simple tips and you’ll survive any networking event.
Networking is the act of socialising to establish relevant contacts and advance yourself professionally.
As an introvert, I’m not the most comfortable when I have to mingle at events.
Naturally, I turned to the internet for networking tips. Some worked great but only if you were the outgoing type.
After scrolling through my fair share of articles, I’ve narrowed it down to the following 7 tips.
These are simple, doable tips to help you network better if you’re introverted or have social anxiety and the like.
Before the Event
1. Plan some questions to ask people later.
To get the ball rolling, try easy questions:
- “Hi, may I join you?”
- “Are you liking the event so far?”
- “What interested you to come here?”
- “Is the [insert food here] any good?”
Small talk is great for warming up you and your conversation partner(s) before the serious questions.
Personally, I find that food is a wonderful conversation starter because Penangites love talking about food.
The meat of the conversation requires you to prepare more complex questions though.
So, do a little research before the event. Find out what the event is about, what sort of people are attending, and so on.
This will help you come up with questions to ask.
For example, at a business conference, I asked people about the challenges they faced as startup founders/entrepreneurs. I even asked for marketing tips and opinions about the role of tech in business.
Nerves can cause your mind to go blank during a conversation so it helps if you prepare questions ahead of time.
2. Manage your time and expectations.
It’s tempting to arrive late to an event on purpose so you don’t have to spend as much time there. But it actually works in your favour if you get there earlier.
I’ve found that arriving before the event starts means there are fewer people, so that’s one less thing to stress you out.
It also means people aren’t engaged in deep conversations yet so you can get there first! No more awkward moments joining in on a conversation that started without you 20 minutes ago.
Whenever I’m at events, I set myself realistic goals for networking so I don’t overwhelm myself.
I make a decision to speak to X number of people and I stick to it.
Be realistic about your target but don’t go too easy on yourself. For me, two would be easily done but four or five is a bigger challenge, though still very reasonable.
There’s nothing better than the sense of accomplishment and pride I feel when I’ve filled my “quota” for any event.
During the Event
3. Start by reaching out to others standing alone.
This is one of my favourite tips that I use a LOT.
I see a group of people talking among themselves and I automatically feel anxious at the thought of interrupting their chatter to join in.
I don’t like being the “new kid on the block” in an on-going discussion.
That’s why I prefer approaching individuals rather than groups at events.
After scanning the crowd, I’ll see people standing to the side of the room, looking bored or awkward and I’ll go up to them and strike up some small talk.
You’d be surprised how well this works as there are definitely many other socially anxious people at these functions.
For networking newbies, speaking to people 1-on-1 is way more manageable and less stressful.
Best case scenario, the outgoing types will spot the two of you and come over for a chat.
Before you know it, you’re participating in a large group discussion and have the opportunity to meet more new people.
4. Engage in empathetic listening.
(Image Credit: University of Leeds)
People tend to focus their efforts on saying something funny or interesting in conversations but sometimes the most important thing you can do is to listen.
This is one of the advantages of being an introvert. Since I’m not the type to hog a conversation, I can practice empathic listening and give my attention to other people.
Listening allows you to make the speaker feel comfortable with you and it also lets you learn more about them.
Considering the different types of professionals you will encounter at social events, you can learn so many things by listening.
Some ways to practice empathetic listening are:
- Take your time in listening to the speaker.
- Make sure your body language reflects attentiveness and openness.
- Don’t be a know-it-all. This is not the time to inflate your ego.
- Repeat relevant phrases/words to show you’re listening.
5. Share your passions and personal stories.
Most people who are terrified of speaking to other people decide to be a silent participant in conversations.
But when you’re too quiet, you become forgettable. Once the business event ends, they won’t even remember your name.
So as much as you would like to play the role of the empathetic listener the entire time, you can’t. Not if you want to really get the most out of your networking.
Sharing your personal stories with others is an easy way to contribute to the conversation because you don’t have to think hard about what to say.
Furthermore, the stories will make you more relatable and offer insights to them of you as a person. You become more likeable and interesting.
Another thing you can talk about is your life’s passions.
Once you start going off on your favourite things in life, the effect is contagious and soon others in the group will too!
Talking about stuff you know definitely helps you overcome your fear of saying the wrong thing or something ignorant in front of people you hope to impress.
After the Event
6. Jot down important details.
As soon as you get the chance, jot down the relevant details of everyone you met at the event.
If they give you a business card, write those details on the back.
It’ll remind you of things like where you met this person, what you spoke about, and what their interests are.
My personal alternative to the business card trick is to use my phone to take notes. Because not everyone has a card to offer you but you will always have your phone with you.
The details ensure you don’t embarrass yourself when you bump into the same person again at a different event.
The person will also feel valued and important because you remembered them, thereby strengthening the professional relationship.
Moreover, when you need something, say a job opportunity, you can easily find the right person in your network to contact.
7. Follow up. Follow up. Follow up.
The most important thing to do after attending any networking event is to follow up.
Maybe you had a terrific conversation with some people at a party. There were interesting stories and opinions exchanged throughout the night. But don’t leave with a mere “Thanks for the chat, lovely to meet you.”
If the conversation went well, always remember to get their contact information for future correspondence.
You can say, “It was great talking to you about [insert subject here]. If I need [something the person does], I’ll definitely get in touch with you. What’s the best way for me to contact you?”
Once you have their contact details, save them in your phone immediately or it might slip your mind later.
If your conversation partner was someone you are very keen on collaborating with, send them a brief “thank you” message at the end of the day or within the next few days.
This shows the person that you’re making a genuine effort to build a strong, professional relationship with them.
Just because you’re an introvert or socially inept doesn’t mean you can’t ace at networking. It takes time and practice to find a networking style that suits you.
The tips I outlined in this article should help you get started on your networking journey.
From the moments leading to the event to the actual event itself and to after the event is over, my tips have got you covered every step of the way.
It’s okay if you can’t implement all 7 tips in one event. Take your networking journey at a pace you can manage.
But try to apply at least 3 tips for your next networking event and work your way up later.
Have any of the tips worked for you? Share your results or thoughts by commenting below. I’d love to know if this article helped.