We all know the dreaded professional buzzword we’re told will help our careers blossom. While thinking of attending an event where you’re forced to talk about yourself and other topics may cause your skin to crawl, networking is not something you should avoid.
Even at the age of 24, I have done my fair share of networking. Serving on several boards and being in a very social profession forces me out of my comfort zone by default. I mean, you can’t have PR without the PUBLIC part.
To stick with the theme of Feb-YOU-ary here are some networking tips I’ve learned along the way that you can use to skip some of the learning curve:
Quality over quantity
Just because networking is important, doesn’t mean you should go out and try to attend a record number of events. It’s not a sprint. Networking is definitely more of a marathon.
At the inception of my professional career, I was attending an event every night of the work week, sometimes even doubling up. While it sounds impressive, I ended up burning myself out.
Instead, I learned to focus on a few key events that actually yielded benefits to attending. This way, I focus on maximizing my efforts and avoid dreading every day that ends in “y.”
Bottom line: Networking events are not like Pokémon—you don’t have to catch ‘em all.
Find your networking super-connectors
Everyone knows a super-connector. These are the people in which it feels like they know everyone, and everyone knows them.
Buddy up and tag along with these people to events. Even if you’re uncomfortable and know no one, you will likely meet a few of people through your super-connector association. Often enough, your mentor will have super-connector tendencies.
Another tactic to use is subscribing to Eventbrite, keeping an eye on the regular emails of events and which Facebook friends might be going. Reach out to them and see if you can buddy up, especially if you see one of those super-connectors on the attendee list!
Surrounding yourself with these people will also rub off on you if you make a habit out of being with them. This will become the new norm.
Bottom line: Nervous networker today, super-connector extraordinaire tomorrow.
Passion is contagious
They say that nothing is quite as contagious than passion. This is your superpower when it comes to the actual act of networking.
If you tend to freeze up after “hello,” then ask the other person about what they’re passionate about. This is a great way to calm your nerves, and simultaneously learn something from this person other than my least favorite question: “so what do you do?” which automatically jumps to the work path.
Another perk to this is that they’ll probably respond by eventually asking you what your passions include. Let your personality come out and share with them what makes you get out of bed each morning.
Even if they don’t share your exact passion, they’ll build off your excitement and spark further conversations.
Bottom line: Skip the boring clichés, and talk about what makes you fired up.
Use the 21st Century to your advantage
Dread networking in-person? Well, you’re in luck. The internet has made it so you could theoretically never leave your house like Sandra Bullock in The Net, and still be able to network like a boss.
LinkedIn should be one of the top results in your most-visited sites. I am on LinkedIn at least twice a day and I’m always scrolling through and keeping up with who is doing what and where. It even lets you input information to document how you know each connection, where you met them and provide reminders to follow-up with them.
After that, Twitter chats are a great outlet for you to interact with people in the virtual space. I actually have several contacts that I interact with regularly, in which I met through Twitter chats.
Are you a photographer? Try searching, following and commenting on various Instagram accounts that inspire you.
Bottom line: Don’t make excuses. Instead of watching an extra episode of Orange Is The New Black each night, spend some time catching up and interacting with your virtual network.
Follow-up. Follow-up. Follow-up.
In sales, they say that “the fortune is in the follow-up” and the same goes for networking.
What good is a relationship you spent time and energy in building if all you do afterward is throw that new business card in the pile with the others (oh come on, don’t scrunch up your face like that, we’ve all done it)?
Follow-up with your newly formed colleagues and friends. Connect with them on LinkedIn, follow them on Twitter. Reach out and let them know you enjoyed talking with them and that you’d love to grab coffee to talk further.
You never know what that relationship could evolve into from continuing those conversations.
But we all know what that business card will do in the back of your desk drawer: nothing.
Bottom line: Make sure all of your efforts in pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone don’t go in vain!
Now you’re armed with the starting tactics to put yourself out there. Don’t let it intimidate you. Nobody’s perfect at first. It might seem forced, even awkward at times. But the important thing to do is to start. Start somewhere.
I’ll even make it easy for you: make your first connection here and follow me on Twitter.
What are your favorite networking tips? Share them in the comments below.