We are looking for something when we put on our networking hats and approach a room (perhaps right now it’s still a Zoom room!) full of people that we are hopeful to meet. Maybe you are trying to keep up with business trends in your industry, find a new job, looking for talent to fill an open position, build a client list, make new friends or find the most impactful way to volunteer or give back. Your WHY for networking will always be shifting and evolving, but it’s important not to leave the practice for the moment you need something. Really, the best time to network is when you are not asking for anything so there is time to grow and cultivate relationships. Perhaps, you will be the one giving for a while before needing to receive from a circle of influence. Think of networking as a marathon and not a sprint. Get in there and get comfortable to find your rhythm and style, but also make sure you aren’t always talking with all the same people.
Networking isn’t always easy, but it is so important to ensure that you have access to opportunities not open to the public. Having a high-functioning network provides valuable behind the scenes insight into different fields, internal perspective on jobs and advice on how to grow professionally. Simply put, networking provides better business opportunities and the perception of increased status.
I have been in business a while and have learned a few things about networking and running a successful boutique graphic design agency. Networking is significantly easier for me now after attending all kinds of events, trade shows, luncheons and dinners, but I had to learn a few tricks when I first started out. Below are three tips that can help you calm the jitters.
Prepare What You Want to Say
No, I don’t mean read from note cards or from notes written on the inside of your hand. However, you can still come prepared with what you want to say. Practice a 10 to 20 second elevator speech about yourself that includes who you are, what your professional background is, and why you are at the event. Networking is about getting to know other people so be prepared to ask questions of other people, including the presenters if the opportunity presents itself. It’s also important to have a general understanding about the subject matter being presented or discussed at the event.
Grow the Conversation
Networking is about connecting people that don’t know each other. A conversation with good flow can always handle more people to keep it interesting. Invite people that you already know into the conversation and introduce them to people you just met or already have a relationship with. This is a great way to make sure that the conversation isn’t just dependent on two people. People are going to expect others to drop in and out of conversations at networking events. It is also important to always offer authentic conversation. Believe it or not, it’s not hard to spot someone that is faking it. Don’t pretend to know something you don’t … and if you don’t ask about it. It’s a great way to stay engaged!
Work the Room
Make a plan to literally work yourself entirely through the room to meet people. Make a circle around the perimeter or interior of the room, or you can work the room diagonally to make an X. Doing this ensures maximum exposure and keeps you from getting stuck in a bubble.
Remember, it’s hard for everyone to walk into a crowded room to network. Remember … when signing up for networking events typically you are excited about it. It’s been proven that the brain and nervous system responds the same to nerves and excitement. So the next time you are networking and the jitters are growing take a deep breath, look around the room and focus on your plan. You got this!