Networking with unfamiliar people can be daunting and even terrifying at times. On the other hand, networking is a big part of making successful connections, and can typically lead to further career opportunities, or promoting your personal brand. Networking today does not always include purely exchanging contact information. Instead, there are a few more steps that need to be taken to ensure that other professionals are able to remember you and connect with what you are offering them. If you have developed some techniques over the years and are realizing that these are just not cutting it for you anymore, or are just entering the workplace, here are 5 techniques that you may be able to use to make your networking strategies the best they can be.
It can sometimes be difficult to interact with someone in a purely professional setting, but being engaged in an activity while you are meeting and connecting with new people can help. It can be much more fun and enjoyable when you network with professionals in a unique and engaging setting. Try attending a cooking class, playing a round of golf, grabbing a coffee, attending a fundraiser, or going to a restaurant’s opening day. Attending events that are out of the ordinary will allow you to have something to talk about at first, and will help others remember you more readily. When someone is going through their collection of business cards and sees your face they will remember that time you both took a cooking class together, rather than just another face that they saw at a networking event
This effect if known as flashbulb memory; people are more likely to remember events that are out-of-the-ordinary, and the events are typically linked to different emotions that you feeling during the time of occurrence. This type of networking may work better if this is your second or third time meeting up with another professional. During an initial networking event, listen carefully to their interests and incorporate these into your next meeting. This will show that you really listened to what the individual had to say during your initial meeting, and took the time to remember and plan an event that is specific to their interests. If you feel calm and comfortable, the conversation will flow more naturally, so pick events that you find fun, but that also have an essence of professionalism.
2. Follow Up
Networking events can seem very overwhelming in the moment. After a short period of time following the event, follow up with those individuals whose contact information you received, to say that you really enjoyed meeting them. You can even take the time to inform them about another upcoming event another event, and ask them if they would like to attend the event together. For many individuals, attending a large networking event alone can be intimidating, and just because you arrive at the event together, does not always mean that you have to stay together throughout the entire event. At the same time, you do not want to ask everyone that you met at the initial event to have coffee; this can be a good time to narrow down your contacts.
If coffee seems too informal, you can also send an email to say that you really enjoyed meeting them and hearing about X, Y, and Z. It is important to secure the second interaction or send a ‘thank you’ email so that this individual knows you did not forget them and that you really enjoyed and appreciated meeting them. Not only is it polite to follow up with a contact, but it will help set you apart from the other individuals that this person met at the networking event. The idea here is that you want to ensure that the individual remembers you, even down the road. Make as much of an impression on them as they made on you. Taking these extra steps is not only considered polite, but it also shows others that you are genuine and that you want to make connections with other genuine people.
3. Use Social Media Effectively
Social media has the potential to both hinder and promote your personal brand. Therefore, if you do choose to use social media to connect with other professionals, use it in a professional manner,. If you are going to be ‘friends’ with people from your work setting or use your social media outlets as a way to interact with individuals from events, it is important that you interact and post professional content on your social media pages. Even if you are not going to be ‘friends’ with other individuals from your workplace, make sure that you use privacy settings accordingly. A potential employee will usually check your social media pages before considering whether or not to hire you, and if you are trashing your last workplace, this is only going to look bad on your character.
If you do plan to use social media to interact with other professionals, you can ‘like’ event pages and see who else will be attending the events. Social media can be a great way to keep up with contacts you made at networking events, and see what other events they will be attending in the future. Make sure to remember that even if you do not choose to use social media to connect with other professionals and customize your privacy settings accordingly, everyone that searches you can still see you profile and cover photos. It could be highly beneficial to invest in having a few professional headshots taken to ensure that you present a concise, high-quality, professional appearance across all social media platforms.
4. Constantly Keep Re-Evaluating Your Contacts
You will be meeting more and more people at each event, and soon your contact base will start to get a little out of hand. At first, it is important to be a little choosy and limit your contact from the start. This will help you a lot in the long-run so that you don’t have to do too much narrowing down to do when your contacts do start to pile up. At the same time, there is a balance that needs to be taken here. It is important not to cut-out contacts that could be of high value to you later in life. Try to be future-focused and ask yourself what other benefits could this person introduce that may not be originally apparent upon first meeting them. Just because they do not work directly in your field or have as much in common with you as someone else, that does not necessarily mean that they could not add something else to your professional development. Your connection could help you to design your website or know when the next best restaurant is opening in town.
On the other hand, it is important to have at least one or two things in common with people you are meeting so that you have things to talk about. This does not necessarily have to be hobbies or movies. If you see yourself as a hard-working individual, look for similar traits in others. Keep in mind that how you present yourself, is what others will notice in you, and hopefully, others will want to connect with you on these factors as well. According to Harvard Law, you should feel discouraged if your initial list of contacts is small compared to others’ because each contact will open up a more diverse group of contacts that will then be available to you.
5. Be Open and Be Prepared
When trying to build a professional network, one of the most annoying things is to not have your business card on you when you meet a potential client or contact. Make sure that you always have some a few of your business cards handy on your person. You may not expect to meet a contact at the grocery store, but what if you bump into someone that says they are in need of website design and that is your specialty, but you don’t have any business cards on you. This could have been a wonderful opportunity for your professional development, but you have no way of ensuring that this person remembers you.
Even though you never thought you could meet a potential client at the grocery store, these instances do in fact happen. If you are trying to develop your personal brand or are self-employed, you always have to keep your ears open for opportunities coming your way. If you go to one of the same places every day, you may still make a new and unexpected connection. Do not shut yourself off from connections just because this particular place is not where you expected to meet your next client, or because it has never happened before.
What techniques have you developed throughout your career to network more effectively? Are there some techniques you have developed that you never thought you would use, or some that you thought would work really well for you, but, in fact, did not? Let us know in the comments below!