We are a social species. Which means, among other things, that we need to be meeting and getting along with people from all walks of life. And this applies not just to the personal sphere. Your work life is no different, meeting people and making contacts are a very important part of the professional culture. One common and popular way to make this happen is ‘networking’. It’s a familiar concept. If I had to guess, I’d say you’ve come across this word at least three times already in the day so far! Today, building a network comes a close second if not at the same level as building a business or a product. A good network can catapult your efforts in making your idea come to life. The catch? Building the said Network. The bare truth is, that building a worthwhile network is not easy. It’s time consuming and involves a lot of hard work. More so if you’re not very comfortable doing it. Networking at business events and meets is very un-nerving for introverts, even for people who claim to be comfortable working a crowd. Here are some pointers that should make your next event experience easy and worth your while in making contacts.
1. Arrive Early. This is for those who are starting out with the whole networking exercise and for those who are not very comfortable talking in large crowds. Arriving early to events, has a two-fold advantage. One, it allows you to get comfortable with the surroundings and gently eases you into networking with the few people available then. Arriving later can put you out of your element when small groups have already formed and you don’t know who to join. Two, because of the thin crowd in the beginning, you get the opportunity to build stronger contacts. You can spend 5-10 minutes with each person, allowing you to leave a long lasting impression.
2. Have an agenda. Take some time to figure out the kind of people to expect at the meet up. Use this information to see how some of these people can benefit you. Have answers to questions like “How can I help you?” ready. When you are presented with the chance to answer this question, don’t blank out. In the same context, ask open ended questions. Questions like ‘Why, Who, How, When” etc are good examples of open ended questions. These questions invite long answers and thus provide a good opportunity for a conversation starter. You want to avoid questions that can be answered with a mere Yes or No.
3. Business Card. Always have a business card handy. At the end of an event, people most likely collect a lot of business cards, for which they may not have the patience to remember. One tip is to make your card catchy and interesting – something that invites a second glance right when you hand the card. A tip for students: At a meet up for all things gaming, I met a design student who had a neat little trick up his sleeve: His business card read “ You met me at _______” and he had filled out the name of the event. Days later when I came across his card, I remembered him. But do remember: catchy does not mean flashy. Your business card should reflect the business you’re in.
4. Dress Well. Nobody is going to tell you this, but I will. Take the extra minute or two to evaluate how you look for an event. It’s not about showing off, it’s about making an impression. A clean and tidy t-shirt makes a better one than a stained and crumpled shirt.
5. Take a Friend. This is not so much of a tip than a suggestion. If going to these meetup’s alone is scary, take a friend. That way you already know one person there. It’ll do wonders for your confidence level. Make the event a contest with your friend: who can speak to more people.
6. Listen & Follow-Up. The urge for talking about yourself and your work while networking is strong, try and keep it curbed. Why? Listening is also a major networking tool. You want the other person to know you are genuinely interested in what they do. Always remember to follow up. The general thumb rule is to reach out via email within 48 hours of networking. Here, instead of a simple ‘Hello”, you could talk about a mutual interest that was discussed at the event. This improves your chances greatly in getting a reply.
7. Same Boat. Lastly, always remember that as much as half the people at any event are in the same boat as you. They are also nervous and unsure on how to network.