Networking can be a living nightmare for some people, but it doesn’t have to be. The word “networking” alone lends itself to an initial expectation of work (and for some a sickening cold sweat). So why would you want to do it?
People network for many reasons: to meet new people, to become part of a community, to develop new skills, to fulfill an obligation to your organization, and many more. Networking encompasses both in-person and online interactions—but at its core, networking is about developing relationships. This can sound overwhelming, especially if you are a more introverted person, but with the right tools—and practice—you will know just what to do.
I love to network, but I’m no expert. Networking is a skill that must be continually practiced. Thankfully, John Bourdage from Bourdage Consulting and Mike Freedman from Niagara University, shared words of wisdom on presenting your best self during a recent event from BN360, the young professional engagement and development program of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership.
Calming the Networking Nerves
Preparing to network can be like that scene from Rocky, where he is preparing for the big fight set to the most inspirational music of all time. You have to gear yourself up—and then, you have to actually show up. If you are feeling intimidated or nervous:
- Listen to a motivational song on your way there.
- Invite a friend or co-worker. If going alone is a barrier for you, then don’t hesitate to bring someone you know and approach networking as a team.
- Reward yourself. We all have to do things that we’d rather not do. That’s life. Positive association can make a big difference. Treat yourself to a specialty coffee or fun snack after the event. This way, you are motivated and encouraged.
- Wear a power outfit. Choose an outfit that makes you feel confident.
Practice and Preparation Make Perfect
The keys to a successful networking experience: preparation and practice. You would not walk into a major meeting or speech without previous practice; networking works the same way. Here are three things to know when preparing to network:
- Bring your Cards. Be sure to always bring your business cards. Even if you are out and about, have a few cards with you. Connections are not limited to a formal networking event. In fact, some of the best relationship develop in the most unconventional of ways.
- Own the Open. You should not only have a personal “elevator pitch,” but that pitch should be well practiced and something you can deliver with little to no thought. Be careful not to become too rehearsed though; be genuine. Keep it to 30 seconds or less. A great way to prepare is by practicing alone in a mirror. Be aware of what your body language is communicating. Deliver your pitch to a friend and ask for honest feedback.
- Use Your Resources. Some events have a guest list or registration list available ahead of time, either through the registration page or on social media, etc. Browse the list and select two or three people you would really like to connect with and know what is going on in their company or in that industry. Check them out on LinkedIn for additional talking points but remember not to get too personal in the introduction the first time you meet someone.
- Check Your Profile. Remember, networking isn’t just an in-person interaction. A lot of networking occurs online using resources like LinkedIn. Before a big networking event, do a quick check on your profile. Is it up-to-date? Do you have a professional picture?
It’s finally time to put your hard work preparing into practice. Before you walk into the event, stop quickly at the restroom for a final check. Be sure your phone is silenced, you have your business cards, your outfit and appearance are as you like them, and then take a big, deep breath. As Amy Cuddy says, “Fake it until you become it” (check out her TED Talk). Walk into the room with confidence and work that room.
Here are three tips to make the most of your experience:
- Network first; eat and drink later.
- Follow the quality rule. Success is about the quality of the conversation, not how many people you talked to. Networking is about relationship building.
- Show engagement and interest in others through active listening. Be mindful of your body language.
If you are ready to take your networking skills to the next level, consider attending an upcoming BN360 event. Be among a community of young professionals as you develop and practice your skills, while growing your network.
BN360 is the young professional and engagement program of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership. Learn more about BN360 and find out how you can get involved here.