Building your brand has its challenges but networking shouldn’t be one of them. I know firsthand how valuable it is to meet new people while networking but I also know how scary and intimidating it may be when you’re just starting out or faced with a new environment.
My first networking event, I didn’t know one person. Sure, it would have been great to bring along someone to make me feel more comfortable but I didn’t. I wanted to challenge myself to stand on my own two feet and I knew if I had someone with me I’d hide next to them the whole time and not get the real experience of networking on my own.
It was time for me to grow up!
Was I nervous? You bet! But I knew that I couldn’t be the one standing in the way of my own success so I choose my goals over my ego. That choice led me to more opportunities than I could have ever imagined. Many connections I made on that very night I still have great relationships with and have secured several clients and friends as a result.
The point is, networking can be rewarding if it’s done right. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in networking and I’ve witnessed a lot of bad networking habits. I don’t want you to make the same mistakes so here are some tips:
- STOP Hiding. The cell phone is the number one culprit of lack of engagement when networking. Texting, scrolling and game playing on a cell phone is all geared towards one thing: Avoiding face-to-face contact. When people are nervous they tend to use their phones as a way to avoid networking in fear of being embarrassed or rejected. The one thing you must know when networking is that many people in the room likely hate networking just like you. They are nervous just like you, but just like you they also understand the importance in finding new opportunities through networking. Not having the distraction of a phone allows you to observe how people are engaging. It shows you are present, not just existing in the room. So put down the phone and find those people just like you.
- Not making eye contact. When you’re speaking with someone for the first time, eye contact is very important. Not only does it show you are interested and engaged, it keeps your audience engaged as well. You are able to read facial expressions and see what is not being said. Eye contact commands a return of eye contact. When that contact is broken, you can adjust your conversation accordingly. Wandering eyes are a big sign of disinterest and give rise to uncertainty and doubt. You don’t want to give that impression to anyone who could be a potential client, employer or partner.
- Forgetting the Call to Action. It’s simple yet often overlooked. Many networkers fail to ask when they can continue the discussion. So you meet a great person, have a great connection, grab a business card and leave without a call to action? Why not keep up the momentum? Ask when they are free next week for lunch or a follow-up meeting in the next week. Chances are, if the person you’re speaking with is as pleased with the conversation as much as you were, they will be more than willing to continue the connection. The first 48hrs after you meet someone new at a networking event are very crucial to determine if you are able to build on that opportunity. Go beyond the email follow-up step and get them on your calendar right then and there if you can.
Above all, you must focus on what you can learn from the people in the room more than focusing on sharing what you can offer. The most memorable conversations for your connections are often the one’s where they had the chance to share more during the conversation. Instead of stressing out about what you’ll say, think about the questions you can ask.
Allow them to speak more than you.
Remember, you are there to learn, not bombard people with how awesome you are. They will learn that later on, likely at your next encounter when you follow-up.