It’s been a long day. You’re tired and hungry and you were in the middle of something SUPER important when you realized the time and rushed off to the event you’d RSVP’d to weeks ago.
And now, there you are. Beer or Bionade in hand, business cards tucked in your pocket and ready to start making connections. Right? Well, not necessarily. Unless you’re one of the lucky ones for whom working a room comes naturally, networking can be an awkward and uncomfortable chore and if you are reading this, you're probably the type of person who will be tempted to slip out the back and return to your trusty computer. Well, don't! (Unless of course the event is REALLY boring - you have to know which battles to fight to win the war.) It could be a HUGE lost potential.
Networking isn’t just about stocking up on business cards for your personal collection, it’s an opportunity for real knowledge exchange and a springboard for collaboration, which is likely to boost your organization's impact and effectiveness in some way or other. Maybe you can also help others to do the same and ratchet up your karma points. Whatever happens, the golden rule applies 99% of the time: help comes from where you least expect it. And it won't necessarily just wander up to you. You've got to get out there and grab it.
How can we expect to maximize our impact if everyone is working in their separate bubbles? How can we foster innovation if we’re all blinded by organizational tunnel vision? There are lots of fancy ways we could tackle these problems, but the simplest solution would be to start building a strong network that opens the door to collaboration and shared learning. The people you meet might not only be able to help you, but they will also push you forward. Have an idea? Get some feedback. They might challenge you or they might offer up new ideas. When done effectively, networking can be one of the most valuable investments of your time.
That's why we’ve rounded up some of our favorite tips to help you be a networking extraordinaire, regardless of whether you’re looking for a job or a strategic partner:
- Volunteer at the event
- Show up early
- Don’t pitch right off the bat
- Set yourself a goal
- Go in with a clear purpose
- Keep moving
- Go beyond your community
- Make the follow up meaningful
- Maintain your network and the contacts in it
1. Volunteer at the event. If you have the problem of feeling a little lost at these events, this might be a perfect solution for you. By volunteering, you’ll have a clear role and purpose – plus you’ll be given lots of opportunities to talk to people without you even having to make the first step.
2. Show up early – sometimes the best moments are those quiet moments before the storm hits. If there are a few of you in the room, you’ll be “forced” to engage with one another. Plus there’s a good chance the organizers/speakers will be there early – this gives you a chance to hit them up in peace and quiet before they're surrounded by swarms of people wanting to get an intro.
3. Don’t pitch right off the bat. When you do get talking to somebody, ask easy questions and then LISTEN. Figure out their needs. Networking is a two-way street – think about how you can help them. If you’ve expressed genuine interest, they’ll be more likely to do the same.
4. Smile. Nuff said.
5. Set a goal. Before the event, set a target number for how many people you’re going to try and chat with. Not every person will lead to a valuable long-term contact, but over time, you’ll get used to chatting with different people and who knows who might turn up next to you. That said, remember you don’t need to talk to everyone. If you have access to the list of attendants, identify a few people beforehand and seek them out.
6. With that in mind, go in with a clear purpose and idea of WHAT you want. Have a few questions in mind, for example, “what ideas do you have for me?” or “do you know anyone I should talk to?” Also prepare responses to similar questions that might be asked of you. Some of the most commonly asked questions are “how can I help you?” or “what are you looking for?” If you have a clear, articulate answer on how someone can help you, you’re more likely to get something out of it that you really want and need.
7. Move on. For your own sake, and the sake of your talking partner and everyone else, don’t latch on for an entire evening. Be respectful of everyone’s time and keep moving after 5 - 10 minutes. This will also help you make sure you get to talk to as many people as possible. Struggle to make the break? To avoid awkwardness, at a appropriate moment, just offer them your business card and suggest you organize a follow-up meeting to talk in more detail. Whether you do or not will be indication of what both of you believe you can get out of it, but at least that's an issue for another day.
8. Go beyond your community. You never know WHO might be relevant or provide an interesting contact. Plus the people outside of your immediate field or network might give you a much needed dose of fresh perspective regarding your project or problem. If you're stuck, they might be able to help you the most.
9. Make the followup meaningful. Send a bit of info or something that gives your mail a real added value for the other person. This way you go beyond the “nice to meet you last night” mail and make it clear you have something real to offer.
10. Maintain your network and the contacts in it. Networking isn’t something you do once and then tick off your list. It’s something that should be incorporated into your work practices. Making the first contact is the first step, maintaining that contact and nurturing it into a fruitful exchange requires some ongoing work and commitment.
11. Last but not least, practice! Like anything, the more you do it, the easier it will get. We've been learning the ropes over the last few months and we still might not always practice what we preach, (I might have skipped an event to finish this article), but hey - everyone's gotta start somewhere.
If you’re itching to put these tips to the test, tbd* is hosting monthly Hangouts in Berlin. Check out our Facebook page to stay informed. Join us for casual drinks, chats, and of course, some top-notch networking. See you there!
Originally published June 12, 2016