Networking events are like blind dates. You don’t know what to expect. That’s why most people don’t like to network. But to move ahead in your career, build new relationships and expand your professional circle, networking is a must. These dog days of summer are the perfect time to plan your fall networking strategy.
Here’s a guide for getting the most out of networking events.
Step 1: Identify Your Opportunities
Be proactive. Don’t wait to hear about an event from a friend or colleague. Look for gatherings that are specific to your areas of interest.
Conferences, trade organizations, formal affinity groups (eg: the iRelaunch Return to Work Conference, Social Media Association, The Association of Women in Communication) all offer networking opportunities.
Decide how many events you’ll attend. Many are free. For those with a fee, early bird rates are often available. Committing early increases the likelihood you’ll attend.
Step 2: Be Strategic
To be seen and heard in the best possible light, you have to be relaxed and confident.
A little pre-planning builds confidence. Search the web for newsworthy happenings or advancements in your field of interest. This makes for good common ground conversation.
If possible, acquire the attendee list in advance. If it’s not available, arrive early, get the list when you check in, and target at least three people to meet. When you meet them, tell they why they are on your must-meet list.
Everyone loves a compliment!
Step 3: Plan What You’ll Say
Be Interested Before Being Interesting. Let your target individual speak. After all, you already know what you do.
When answering, “What do you do?” integrate your title with a value statement about why what you do is important. This sounds like, “As a mortgage broker, I help people own homes”, rather than “I am the Senior Vice President of Mortgages at ABC Mortgage.”
A value statement shortens the path to a productive, mutually beneficial conversation.
Use questions to learn about your audience.
- How did you get started in the field?
- What do you like best about the work?
- Who are your target clients?
- What’s your biggest challenge this year?
If you’re re-entering the workforce, focus on the value you bring to others and ask for advice. “I’m looking for full-time work and want to focus on helping people improve basic skills. Can you offer any direction?”
If you’ve been a volunteer, describe the experience in human terms. “I’ve been teaching ESL and am inspired every day by how hard my students work.”
Offering your ideas and experiences keeps the conversation going, explores shared interests, and invites the next interaction.
Step 4: Make a clear follow-up plan
Networking is step one in building a new relationship. Step two is keeping the conversation going. Again, questions are an easy way to invite the next conversation.
- Let’s continue the conversation. Can we make a coffee date in the next few weeks?
- How do you think we might work together?
- How can I help?
Then, exchange cards and follow up with an email within 24 hours to confirm the next meeting.
Exit strategy: If a networking conversation is going on too long, consider ending it this way; “This has been a great conversation. I’d love to continue, but I’m here for another hour and there are several other people I want to meet. Can we get together again?”
Networking is like anything else. The more you do it, the better you get at it.
Today is a good day to start.
Do some research.
Get events on your calendar.
Plan your conversations.
Now, enjoy the rest of summer…
By the holidays, you will have moved your career ahead!
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