And how you can do so by being a nice person – not a business card peddler.
“Clever introduction” + “business card exchange” = “job offer” is the networking formula, right? Surely, an efficient transaction like that is why people subject themselves to capital-N Networking events, with hundreds of people trying to balance a glass of wine and plate of shrimp in one hand, while giving a strong-but-not-too-strong handshake. And, with those kinds of stakes, that must be why people get nervous about networking.
Except, wait, that’s not how it works. Schmoozing with someone at a networking event today will not result in a job offer, new client or quadrupled network tomorrow. “That’s not the goal … so get it out of your head,” says Dorie Clark, marketing strategy consultant and author of “Stand Out: How to Find Your Breakthrough Idea and Build a Following Around It.” That kind of thinking is “not only incredibly high pressure,” she says. “It’s also completely wrong and irrational – it’s not going to go down that way.”
Here’s how it will go down: You’ll go to a networking event – be it a cocktail hour, fundraiser or coffee meetup – looking to have fun, be friendly and actually communicate without a transactional reward in mind. With this attitude, you’ll land a new acquaintance and insight – and yes, maybe at some point in the future, you can leverage either of the two to help advance your career (or someone else’s). Follow these 11 steps to do just that:
1. Prepare your self-introduction. With this step, you’ll be more confident and less likely to stumble through some meandering and, to be quite honest, kind of boring introduction that bores people because it keeps going on and on as you lose yourself in some existential crisis about what you do and how it relates to the universe and what do job titles even mean?
Oy. Susan RoAne, networking expert and author of “How to Work a Room,” advises preparing a quick introduction – we’re talking eight or nine seconds here – that gives some context as to why you’re at the event. She also suggests describing what you do in lieu of your job title. (“I help organizations develop leaders,” instead of, “I’m the associate director of learning and development at Some Company You’ve Never Heard Of.”) With this route, “you give people the opportunity to make a comment or ask a question, and then you’re in a conversation,” she says.
2. Embrace small talk. “I know a lot of people who denigrate small talk,” RoAne says. “What do you want to do – start off with famine and war?” Better to begin with chitchat about the tasty shrimp appetizers, last night’s big game or your thoughts on the keynote speaker. They’re not exactly world-changing conversations, but RoAne says they’ll help you build common bonds with others at the event.
3. Be nice. “Be nice to everyone in the room,” RoAne says. “Don’t worry about their title, because you don’t know who they’ll be next year.” How, exactly, can you exude a Snow White-esque kindness with every networker in the forest – er, conference hall? For one, empathize. RoAne says almost everyone at these huge networking events feels uncomfortable and shy. And while, yes, most of the event attendees would prefer to drink wine at home than with a bunch of strangers, chances are no one came to eat shrimp alone in the corner. There’s safety (from awkwardness) in numbers, so talk to individuals who are standing by themselves.
Similarly, when you’re in a group and sense someone on the outskirts looking in, take a step back to let that person join. “You will have included the person who felt excluded, and they will never forget you,” RoAne says.
4. Have fun. “When you walk into any room – I don’t care if it’s a party, a conference, a meeting, a fundraiser – find the group that looks like they’re having the best time,” RoAne says. Stand in the periphery of that group, she says, and when someone looks your way, simply smile and ask if you can join. What monster would say “no?” Whether in a group or on your own, don’t panic about dazzling everyone with your wit. If you relax and smile, you’ll have a better time and come off as approachable.
5. Bring business cards. Yes, everyone is online these days, but no, that doesn’t mean you should abandon old-school business cards. “You never know what modality and method people communicate in,” RoAne says, adding that when you suggest someone “look you up on LinkedIn,” you’re essentially giving homework.
As for how to use these cards, RoAne points out: “Business cards follow a conversation – they don’t supplant it.” For more guidance, check out “The Cardinal Rules of Properly Using Business Cards.”