Networking. It’s a word that opens the door to many opportunities, but many people are fearful when they hear it, sometimes fearful of not knowing what to say, not saying the right thing, not knowing who to talk to, and the list goes on.
The good news is through repetition and an action plan, you can actually get better at networking, almost like learning how to walk.
Before you head to the VP launch happy hour this week, here are a few tips that help me shine at meetups.
1. Pregame—Get Into a Talkative Mood Before You Leave the Office
I sit behind a computer all day coding at the office. When it’s time to get social, it’s difficult for me to go from binary-code-guy into super-social guy. So, I engage in small conversations throughout my day at the office to prepare for the meetup after work. For instance, I take the long way to my desk and engage in lighter chatter as I pass my coworker’s desk. I may also have lunch with a few co-workers to get into a social mood.
2. Get Their Early
If possible get into the venue ahead of time for two reasons: 1) Some people have a physiological response of anxiety in new environments—new office, new home, new state. The more you’re in that space, the more you’ll get used to it and the less anxiety you will feel. 2) Usually, the host will be finalizing setup for the event. If you’re there early, you can ask “Do you need help with anything?” If they say yes, there’s your 1st networking engagement for the night.
3. Choose a Goal and Focus on It
Just like anything else in life, you should set a goal, preferable a SMART goal. Are you looking to land your next job? Perhaps meet your next business partner? Looking to bring someone on your team? Are they a millennial at a startup or seasoned veteran in the industry? Be specific about what you want so your thoughts, actions and messages are aligned as you approach the right people.
For instance, here’s a goal I set back in college when I wanted an entry level job in tech: I’m going to approach seven people this evening, preferably hip techies in tee shirts. If they work in the tech industry, I’ll attempt to get their contact information and send a follow up email. In addition to thanking them, I’ll request 20 minutes of their time for an informational interview over coffee.
4. Listen & Offer Value
You’re there for your goal(s) and so is the person you’re speaking with. Make sure that you genuinely listen to the other person’s needs and wants. Once you have that in mind, help them. My role model explains the greatest business skill to have is empathy. Demonstrate to your new friend that you want to help them succeed by offering something valuable. This could be information or solution to a problem they currently have. Always try to offer value before asking for it. This will increase your chances of the person reciprocating
5. The 3-Second Rule
Make a commitment to yourself to approach and start the conversation within 3 seconds of noticing someone. One your eyes fixate on someone, go! Walk over there, introduce yourself and strike up a conversation. If not, you get into analysis paralysis mode. This happens when you think so much that it prevents you from taking action. Before you know you it, the person you want to speak with has moved on, left the venue, or has engaged in a conversation with someone else. Additionally, your anxiety will increase, the longer you just wait there!
6. Be a Networking Connector
A great way to offer value in the meetup venue is to connect strangers together. If you’re in a conversation and decided it’s time to move on, introduce your current connection with someone else in the room. You’ll add value to both people and that will improve their chances of making a good connection. Also, the law of reciprocity comes into play. When people see you’re the networking connector, someone may do the same for you.
7. Have Your Introductory Statement of Value Ready
You’ll find that you’ll tend to get asked similar questions throughout your night. It’s a good idea to have a general answer to commonly asked questions: What do you do? Where you go to school? Who do you work for? Prepare and practice your introductory statement of value.
8. I Don’t Know What to Say
When you approach someone and you’re in conversation, be authentic. How? Say whatever you’re feeling and thinking. Aside from your introductory statement of value, don’t have anything in your head. Let the conversation take its course. If there’s a lull in the conversation, that’s your cue to exchange contact information and move on.
See you at the next meetup.