Does the idea of going to a ‘networking event’ sound like torture? Do you think of networking as a slimy, self-serving activity? I admit that I’ve hated networking at times. But there are some simple things you can do to take the pain away…
The first thing to do is change how you think about networking. Let’s say an event is coming up. Instead of thinking you need to go and find people who can help you, give you a job, etc, you need to approach it from the opposite perspective – how can you be of value to others. Let’s say you have a conversation about house prices with a local realtor, offer to send him this report you were just reading. Or for the woman who casually mentions that her small business’ website needs some work – let her know about you a designer you’d highly recommend and offer to send the details. Maybe you discuss how one company has just launched a new careers site – who better to review it and give a candidate’s objective feedback? The point is, look for ways you can be helpful – ideally, on a professional basis, but personally is okay too. Not only do most people find this a much more palatable way to approach networking, it’s actually super effective thanks to the concept of reciprocity. When others help us, we naturally want to help them. Awesomesauce, right?
Ok, so now you’ve got a better ‘mental model’ when it comes to being a top notch networker, but how do you get the conversation started? Here are two crazy-simple ways to break the ice, even for those of us who are super-introverted.
- “Is anyone sitting here/can I join you? Thanks, I’m Kari. Nice to meet you..”
- “Hi, I don’t think we’ve met before… I’m Kari” (works well for someone important you especially want to meet)
If you’re approaching more than one person, don’t forget to break into the right group. Look at body language – are they in a ‘closed’ shape, or is there an opening where they’re facing the broader room? If the latter, go right ahead. If they’re closed off, they’re not inviting others in and you’ll have a tougher time. Now I can’t script the rest of the conversation for you, but there are a few things that will set you up for a good conversation:
- Have your elevator pitch ready. Make sure you are prepared to introduce yourself in a very specific way, e.g. “I’m graduating next month with a Computer Science degree from MIT and I’m looking to join a software company where I can leverage my programming experience” (notice this sets the other person up to ask about your experience if they have any interest whatsoever)
- Look out for things you and the other person have in common. We deny it but people like people who are similar to them – because basically, it makes you feel good about yourself. This could be where you went on holiday, your major at university, your reaction to the presentation you just heard… anything!
- Read the paper, and the Economist. You need to be ready to have an informed conversation on anything major going on. You don’t need to be able to rattle off your views on the situation in Kenya, or Samsung’s recent social media failure, but at least know the headlines and be able to ask the other person an intelligent question if they bring it up.
- Let the other person talk. Lots of people like the sounds of their own voices, and you don’t need to dominate the conversation to impress someone. Often it’s more effective to ask questions, smile, nod, and generally find whatever they’re saying to be “just fascinating” ;)
Finally, remember that many other people hate networking too, and they’ll probably be happy that you’ve engaged them in a conversation. Now tell me, how do you feel about networking? Are you ready to do the rounds? If yes, what technique are you going to use? If not, what’s holding you back? Let me know in the comments below.