The problem with networking is simple: IT’S AWKWARD!
Even for the most outgoing, confident and experienced networker, attending a face-to-face networking event has moments of clumsiness and discomfort.
But it’s still the most effective way to start building long-term, two-way relationships — really connecting for mutual benefit and results. The key is to learn some tricks so you get over the hurdles and enjoy the experience.
Here are some common challenges:
1. I enter the event and I’m lost and intimidated.
Create a rhythm of your own and keep moving around. Follow these three steps: The introduction, the conversation and the close.
Ask good open-ended questions and be genuinely curious about the person you are meeting. There’s a great phrase: “Be interested, not interesting.” Listen more than you talk. Your goal is to find great people to follow up with and talk with more at a later point in time.
Here are a few questions to tuck in your portfolio:
- What brought you to the event?
- How did you get into the field you are in?
- What’s next for you?
- What excites you about what you do?
2. The business card exchange — what to do?
First, you need to have your hands free to shake hands and exchange cards, so check your coats and briefcases at the door. Second, you need to HAVE business cards and a pen and paper. If you’re not employed — or want to keep your job search private —make personal business cards.
If forget your cards or run out, ask the other person for their card and be sure to send them an e-mail the next day.
Do the business card exchange early on — at the time of your introduction. That way you can observe the information on the card and take separate notes. In many cultures, it is rude to write on the back of the card, which is why you should take short notes (remember that pen and paper?). Do NOT use your smartphone or any other device because you will lose eye contact.
3. I get home and have this stack of cards. Now what?
Here’s where networking breaks down. About two out of 100 people, in my experience, follow up with a contact they just met. And I don’t mean clicking “connect” on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a tool, not a way to build a long term relationship.
Within 24 hours, put the contents of the business card into your contact manager or address book. In the notes section, write the date, the event where you met, and the notes you took about your discussion. “Offered to meet with me; likes toy poodles; knows somebody who works at XYZ Company.”
Then send individual emails, thanking each one for his or her time and requesting a follow up 20-minute conversation. Communicate your objective in a very concise way. “I’m job-searching for an operations manager in a telecommunications company and would like your advice” or “I’m working on a major initiative at work that I hope you can help me with.”
Once you press “send,” mark your calendar for the day that you will follow up. Ideally, it should be seven working days later. Then send three more follow-up emails, one every seven working days. If they don’t respond, they are not willing or able to make the time for you. Move on.