Even the most seasoned businessperson can find themselves in the midst of a networking nightmare. It doesn't matter how much practice you've had, there's always room for improvement. When it comes to professional development, networking events often come to mind.
Whether it's your first day navigating a company party or you're representing your brand at a nationwide event, there are a few simple things you can do to avoid networking mishaps. Here is a list of common networking problems, and how to correct them!
1) You're A Wallflower
As tempting as it is to stick to the sidelines, networking is an inherently social activity. It may seem a bit daunting at first, especially if this is your first networking event. However, it is vital to get out and circulate the room. If you appear visibly nervous or anxious when meeting new people, take a few deep breaths and try to calm down. Force yourself out of your comfort zone with these simple steps.
Find A Common Connection
The fastest way to break out of your bubble in a sea of strangers is to find someone in the room who you already know. Look for a friend or co-worker, even someone in your same line of work and start a conversation. Have your friend or colleague introduce you to their friends and so on. When you have a mutual friend introduce you to others, it's an immediate conversation starter.
Appear Open To Communication
Convey open and welcoming body language and personal confidence will follow. When you carry yourself well, people will sense that you are approachable and open to interaction. Here is a useful article about how to convey positive body language while networking. Don't forget to smile. It is the single most important way to appear relaxed, approachable and friendly (even if you're nervous.) There was also an interesting study done by Scientific American that noted that smiling can actually make you feel physically happy as well. Use a natural smile to both ease your nerves, and convey to others that you're approachable.
Make The First Move
Have confidence in yourself, step out of your shell and make the first move. There will be those who find that connecting with others comes naturally to them, but there will also be a lot of people in the room who probably feel the same way as you! If you do not recognize anyone in the group, simply approach a group of individuals or someone standing on their own. Introduce yourself and state where you work. They will do the same.
2) You Aren't Sure What To Say
This point is closely connected to the previous point. It can be difficult to start a conversation with someone who you don't know. In general, you may simply not know what to say to them.
Even when you've planned out things to say and conversation topics the night before, there's always the dreaded mental blank that happens mid-conversation.
Don't Overthink It: Say Hello
Every conversation starts with a warm "hello." This simple greeting breaks the ice, it lets the other person know that you are interested in talking to them and it will help you feel more comfortable since it is a word that you use every day.
If you are at a loss for words, focus on listening instead of being the one speaking. If you listen to the conversation long enough, you can craft questions based on things that were mentioned. People love to talk about themselves and what they do. You'll be seen as a good listener. When you are actively listening and genuinely interested in a conversation, your questions and responses will flow naturally.
Find Common Ground
A great way to segway into a conversation with someone is to make a general comment. You can compliment the person you are talking with. Or simply start by discussing the networking event. Is there food being served? Was a lovely speech just made? Find a common ground with the person you are talking to and let your general statement flow naturally into a more in-depth conversation.
3) The Conversation Doesn't Feel Natural
Often, when you are at an arranged networking event, it can seem a little awkward at first. If you took the first step and made the introduction, there is still no guarantee that the conversation will flow smoothly. It can take years of practice to master the art of conversation, but there are still a few things that you can do to make the conversation come more naturally.
Relax, Feel At Ease
There is a good chance that your conversation doesn't feel natural because you feel unnatural. To put that in different terms, you may not feel entirely at ease. Stay calm and try to follow the natural flow of the conversation. Do not overanalyze yourself as you're talking. When your mind relaxes, you'll appear more relaxed.
There is a lovely, recent article from The Huffington Post about networking that I recommend to anyone looking for quick tips on networking. In the article, they discuss what they term "authentic networking." In essence, this means that you should be "present" in every conversation you have with someone. It will feel much more natural if you simply turn off autopilot and become genuinely interested in connecting with the person you are talking to.
4) You Forget Names Easily
If you're anything like me, you forget names almost immediately after you hear them. Trust me, you're not alone. This is a common phenomenon, but also, one of the most awkward ones. Forgetting someone's name can come off as disrespectful. It seems like you don't care enough about the person to even know their name. But at networking events, there is so much going on. There is background noise, you are often multitasking and names simply escape you! Here's what to do.
Do Your Research
At larger events, there is often a list of attendees and speakers either online or on a welcoming brochure. Use these to your advantage if you can't quite place the face to the name.
Sometimes name tags are also worn and in this case, you have nothing to worry about. But if you're really bad with names, you can always simply share your business card and ask that they do the same. You should be collecting business cards anyway for follow-ups so this is your best bet when you know you'll forget the name.
Connect on LinkedIn if the timing seems appropriate. That way you can easily place a face to a name for future reference. You may also bring a small notepad and pen. Jot down names immediately if you are prone to forgetting. You can also write down other essential information like phone numbers, company names, and industries.
5) You Don't Listen
Practice describing what you do in no more than 2 sentences. We all know you're a busy person, and you manage multiple different tasks throughout the day. When you are preparing for a networking event, keep in mind that the others mingling may not know specific industry terminology or details. Have a general description of what you do prepared beforehand and summarize it. Do not drag on about your day to day tasks. You could end up boring the person you're talking to. Try and ask as many questions as you answer and let the other individual talk as well.
6) You Feel Under Or Overdressed
It is always a good rule of thumb to be overdressed rather than underdressed. When you are unsure of the dress code, play it safe and dress for a corporate environment, suits, collars shirts, and blazers. If you are still unsure about what to wear, the easiest way to find out is to take to social media.
Research Past Events
Research the company hosting the event and visit their Facebook and Instagram pages. You can infer their level of formality from images they post of company events.
Keep in mind that you should dress in a way that you want others to perceive you. If you are attending this networking event in hopes of finding a new job, you should dress for the job that you want. There is nothing wrong with being slightly overdressed. A good rule of thumb is to overdress but wear layers that you can remove if the atmosphere is more casual. For example, wear your dress shirt with a blazer so that you have the opportunity to remove the blazer if you feel overdressed.
7) You Don't Follow Up
Stay connected with your new contacts after the networking event. Send an email or follow up with a friendly call, reminding the person where you met, your company and what you spoke about at the event.
Timing Is Everything
It is most effective to follow up with those you meet at a networking event within 24 hours of meeting them. Your follow up message doesn't have to be lengthy. Simply remind the individual of your name, position and your reasons for connecting. Share your contact information or reach out on a professional networking service like LinkedIn.
Get Out There And Meet New People!
Hopefully, these quick tips can help you ace your next networking event. If you have any personal tips you want to share about networking, write them in the comments below! You can network anywhere, including formal business events or summits. Here is one of our accounts of a marketing summit, if you are interested in learning more about the process.