‘Networking’ – even the word can make you feel slightly uncomfortable, let alone the actual act of going out there and trying to tell strangers how great you are in order to make contacts. However, in your career, who you know can be as useful (if not more useful) than what you know, which means that networking is a necessary evil in building your career. Whether you are meeting people at your work or making contacts elsewhere, making the right impression is important, but how can you do this when you feel tongue-tied, uncomfortable, and even nervous? A bit of preparation will certainly help, so here are 5 top networking tips that you can use:
- Polite, Relaxed, & Professional
The more relaxed you feel the easier it will be to avoid getting nervous when networking, so if you decide to go to a networking event, for example, make sure it suits you and your personality. Generally-speaking, the more informal and relaxed the atmosphere the better, but remember that this is not a social occasion, so stay professional. You will want to make sure you are polite and friendly with the people you meet, even if you don’t really feel they are ‘useful’ to you. But what should you say?
- Be Prepared
Being prepared for networking makes it all much easier. Some people think of a few opening lines they can use when approaching a potential networking contact. Even if you don’t sit at home writing out lines before the event it is worth thinking what you are going to say before you make an approach. Think of answers to obvious questions you might be asked, like, where are you from and what do you do.
- Small Talk
For many people, one of the worst aspects of networking is making small talk. Trying to make a connection with someone you don’t know can be a hazardous enterprise. What if you accidentally say something to offend them, for example? As such it is best to avoid contentious issues, but it is still worth doing a little preparation for your small talk. You might want to consider buying the newspaper and reading it before you go, just to brush up on your current affairs, sports, entertainment news and gain a few general conversation starters. You never know, a little bit of reading could even improve your earning potential!
Of course, if in doubt you can always fall back on a few classic small talk topics – simply find things that you have in common on the day, like the weather, the venue, the food, and so on.
- Social Media
Social media is great either before or after networking. If you are going to an event and know who is going to be there you can follow them on social media and find out a little bit about them first. This can help start conversations between you too. You should also make an effort to follow up with people on social media after an event – it is a great way to stay in contact and build on the initial meeting. Of course you will need to make sure your social media accounts are professional-looking and that you have your ‘online brand’ in place.
- Quality, Not Quantity
Don’t be tempted to try and meet everyone at an event or networking opportunity. It’s not speed-dating. Instead you should focus on building a few solid connections. It is better to make one or two genuine relationships that you can build on than lots of loose connections. You never know you may even meet your future mentor!