When I talk to people about networking, their first reaction is usually a sigh or a groan or an emphatic “I don’t like networking.” Even the most extroverted people I meet have some discomfort with networking. Yet we all know having a close and diverse network is essential to finding a job, getting clients and making things happen. In fact, your network is one of your most valuable career assets. It’s essential for personal branding. So you need to get comfortable with it. The good news is that there are now lots of ways to engage with others – from online networking through LinkedIn groups to one-on-one networking. Each has its benefits. For this article, I am going to focus on events. Here are five ways to make them less stressful and more enjoyable.
Do your research: When you know exactly what to expect, you have less to fear. Therefore, before attending a networking event, learn as much as you can about the crowd. Research the sponsors or leaders to see what types of events they have hosted in the past and who their previous audiences were. Find out who the organization’s members are and research them online. If there is a way to determine in advance who is coming, you can learn about them – and have a way to connect with them when you meet them in person.
Come up with a list of go-to conversation starters. Rehearse three opening lines you can use when connecting with new people. You might consider things like, “Did you attend the last event that was focused on X? I missed it and was really interested in the topic.” Or “I’ve never been to an event at this hotel. It’s a great space. Have you been here before?” Or “What are you working on these days? What’s inspiring you?”
2. Work it: Make it a Job
Take the pressure off yourself by taking on a job, but not just any job. Choose one that gives you permission – or the mandate – to connect with attendees. For example, volunteer to work the registration table or be the greeter who welcomes people at the door of the event. If that role doesn’t exist, suggest it. Don’t limit yourself to the roles the organization has established. Appoint yourself the event photographer or videographer. That will give you permission to connect with people. Before posting images of them to social media, remember to get their permission to do so. You don’t want all those friendly vibes to turn into a backlash.
3. Share the Stress
If your biggest impediment to networking is showing up alone, invite someone to join you. It could be a close friend or colleague or someone you want to mentor, or it could even be someone you barely know but want to know better. That scenario gives you the opportunity to deepen that relationship while making new connections. You’re not the only one who’s afraid to go it alone; solidarity will reduce stress levels for both of you.
4. Find the Connector
Every organization has at least one. They are the people who seem to know everyone in the group, and they make it their mission to be the glue. Spend some time watching the room and you will be able to easily spot this key person. They want to know you – you are new. And getting to know them means an instant introduction to others.
5. Make it a Game
Take the work out of networking and make it fun. Turn networking events into a game. For example, you can set goals and work to achieve them. Your goals might be as simple as meeting two new people, adding three people to your LinkedIn network, giving your business card to five people, or learning one new thing.
Or if you want to make it really interesting, turn it into a scavenger hunt. “I am going to meet one person who went to my university, two people who have unusual jobs and one person who has traveled to Greece.” Then work the room until you have all the items checked off the list. Making it a game takes the pressure off and gives you instant questions you can use when meeting someone for the first time.
5 Ways to Take the Dread Out Of Networking Events24/03/2016