Back to Basics: Networking 101
Effective networking can produce great results. It can help you meet future employers, get you on the path to making professional acquaintances in your field, foster collaboration, and promote growth.
We all know those people who are experts at networking, they work the room, make the connections, all while making it look so easy; for others, it doesn’t come naturally, and we need extra support. Networking has been crucial to my success equation, but it wasn’t and still isn’t easy for me.
I want you to get out there and start networking, dominate the room. To help you, I’m going to give you some tips that have helped me find success and share some of my epic failures to avoid!
Let’s get the epic failures out of the way first!
I was attending an event, and I was approached by someone I didn’t really know, but who knew me. I didn’t know their name and in a panic, I decided to play it off and blindly guess their name. Epic fail, I mean EPIC. I was so wrong, and it was embarrassing. Talk about making things awkward, and boy it got awkward quick.
Don’t follow in my footsteps, do as I say, not as I do. If you don’t remember or know someone’s name, just admit it and ask. Most people, especially in a professional setting won’t be offended. Networking pros meet a lot of people, there are those with the iron vault for a memory and they will remember every single person’s name they’ve met in the last 20 years but let’s be real, most of us can’t remember our own name sometimes.
Know When To Go For It
Networking is all about working the room. Years ago I was doing just that, well attempting to anyway. I somehow ended up beside a group of four people who were already in the middle of their own conversation. In an overzealous attempt to work the room and engage with everyone, I thought it would be a great idea to be a part of their conversation.
Spoiler alert, not only did it not go well, it was a complete disaster. I had no clue what they were talking about, but I went for it and tried unsuccessfully I might add, to insert myself in the conversation.
Talk about embarrassing! I was in it now, I was inserted in the conversation, and I still had no clue what they were talking about. I stood there looking super awkward for several minutes because now that I was in, I had no idea how to leave without looking pathetic.
Again, do as I say, not as I do. Inserting yourself into an already established conversation is usually a bad idea. It’s better and far less embarrassing when you’re first starting out to seek out other individuals. Take a few laps around the room and look for those that aren’t actively engaged with someone else. Its perfectly okay to walk up and introduce yourself, everyone is there for the same reason, to mingle, meet new people, and make professional connections. Don’t be shy.
Now that I’ve relived a few of the worst parts of my early networking stumbles, I’m excited to move on to all the really good parts of networking!
Quality Over Quantity
Networking doesn’t have to be intimidating and can be a lot of fun. Keep in mind though it’s not just a numbers game, in networking quality is always better then quantity.
Getting your network of connections to work with you and for you involves getting to know them and letting them get to know you. Making a true connection is more than just exchanging names and a handshake, it’s more than an introduction.
You need to build trust, if your connections don’t really know anything about you, your goals, interests, and what motivates you, they can’t speak up on your behalf when the time is right, or connect you with the right person/opportunity. You also can’t do the same for them!
This is why, networking only to collect a massive number of business cards isn’t effective.
Choosing Who to Approach First
Unless it’s an event sponsored by your place of employment, chances are you won’t know anyone at the first few events you attend. If I don’t know anyone at an event, I will start by being social with those that I am sitting around or waiting in line with as many of these events offer a lunch or appetizers, depending on the venue and time of day. After you exchange names and introductions, some good open-ended conversation starters are always helpful.
Open-ended questions get the other person talking, then you can use things they say to come up with other questions or conversation points to keep things moving.
Here are some questions to get you started:
#2 is a yes or no question but is a good way to lead into the open-ended part.
- What got you involved with the organization or event?
- Have you been to this event before? How do you like it so far or how is this event compared to the last one?
- Are there other events you can recommend?
- What led you to your profession?
- Where are you from?
Not All Networking Events are Created Equal
It’s a good idea to pay attention to the type of event you are attending and who is putting it on. Is it a training event, or maybe a non-profit event?
If it’s an event put on by a non-profit, I have had a ton of success researching the organization and reaching out to the board members at the event. Non-profit organizations typically have their board members, their roles, and contact information on their website. These people are great resources, they are in the know and can introduce you to other connections at the event. Board members are there to socialize and talk to people about the organization they represent, so they should be easy to talk to and will usually be helpful, enthusiastic conversationalists.
Questions I usually ask board members to get the conversation going:
- How long have you been on the board or involved with the organization?
- How did you originally get involved?
- What role do you fill on the board?
The rest of the conversation usually comes naturally.
I have attended many training events, and these are fantastic places to make new connections. You should always keep up to date on new developments and topics within your industry or the industry you are trying to break into. There are tons of other people at training events looking to learn something, just like you are. In my experience, these people don’t usually attend in a group, so this is a great opportunity to connect with other people in a less intimidating way!
Get the conversation going at a training event:
- Who are you with (organization, employer, etc.)?
- Learn more about what they do, (what is your role within the organization)?
- Have you attended other trainings, if so, which ones?
- Can you recommend other great trainings to attend?
Some of the trainings I’ve attended have been full of people that don’t really need to be there, they are already very educated in their field. They are just super passionate about what they do, growing and learning. These are great people to connect with!
The Pay Off!
Now that I’ve been networking for a while, I have a solid foundation of connections and acquaintances, which is extremely helpful. This is what you’re aiming for, after your first few events, you should have the beginning of a solid foundation of quality connections.
Here is where the benefit of your foundation connections pays off. Now when I attend events, one or more of my connections is usually in attendance. Seeing someone you know is always fun and it makes networking a lot easier. Instead of forcing cold conversations your connections can help you grow your circle organically.
They will introduce you to who they know, now their connection is your connection. Your foundation connections provide an in, for example, each of your foundation connections knows 5 people at the event, each of those 5 people know 5 more people, you get the idea. You have also been attending events, so you can also do the same for them!
Networking doesn’t have to be intimidating anymore! You are now equipped with the knowledge of my EPIC fails and what not to do. I’ve given you some great tips to make networking successful and a list of conversation starters for you to practice and make your own. Now, get out there and give it a try. Pay attention to what works for you. You’ve got this!
Thanks for reading and as always let us know how we’re doing by leaving a comment below. Let us know your top successful networking tips and epic fails. This is a learning community and we value your input and experiences. If there is a topic you would like to see covered, let us know that too.
Have fun networking!
Be sure to share with your social network too! Just hit the share button.
Brandon and Cristal