Are you ready to get better at networking? Or perhaps you’re ready to just start networking, period.
I remember when I first had the desire to become a photographer, I had no idea what I was doing. I knew that it would be beneficial to speak to some other “real” photographers who had been established in the business and maybe they could shed some light on what it’s like to run a business.
My very first “networking” event was just a happy hour in San Francisco. I remember I was both excited and terrified. I didn’t know how to network. I considered myself an introvert and did not find going to large social gatherings energizing, let alone when I knew nobody there.
At the time I was brand new and even saying, “Hi, I’m Catie, and I’m a photographer” was so hard. I felt like a complete imposter. What had I photographed? My friends? My dog? Who was I to call myself a photographer.
But as with any networking event or happy hour type situation, you get to figure out who you like and you’d be okay if you never had to engage in a conversation with again.
How to Get Better at Networking
I was working in a corporate job at the time, but had never gone to a networking event before. I never had aspirations to climb the corporate ladder, yet I also didn’t have dreams of starting my own business. Until I saw what was possible.
My friend from college was working for a music label at the time and she went to networking events all the time. I went to an event with her and just watched in awe as she worked the room. And it wasn’t tacky or weird or awkward. I could see the genuine interest she had talking to each person.
So I asked her after the event, “Wow, you’re amazing at networking. How do you do it?” I think I caught her off guard because she laughed and said, “How do I do what?”
“Networking. How do I get better at networking?”
Networking is important for your business
It’s probably no surprise that networking is important for your business. If you’re running a business, you need people to know about it so that they know you can help them in some capacity if they are looking for that product or service.
If no one knows about you, your business will likely not get very far.
One of the ways to spread awareness of your business is through networking. And let’s get one thing straight. Networking does not mean you’re pitching your business to everyone you meet as if they are a potential customer. That’s how networking and people get a bad rep at networking events.
Don’t be that annoying person who tries to sell someone on their product or service within 3.5 seconds of meeting. It makes it weird. Yes, have an elevator pitch in order to tell others what you do and how you can help, but don’t go in with a straight sales pitch.
Tips for How to Get Better at Networking
If you’ve never been to a networking event before, it can feel scary and nerve-wracking, especially if you’re more of an introvert. However, networking doesn’t have to be scary or overwhelming. There will always be people that you connect with and others that you don’t. You don’t have to make friends or connections with everyone. But it’s good to have a goal and purpose for going to a networking meeting.
- Set Your Intention for Attending
- Ask Questions
- Listen more than you speak
- Excuse yourself when necessary
- Follow up after the event
Set Your Intention for Attending
Why are you attending this networking event? What is your intention? What do you hope to gain or learn from going? It’s a good idea to set an intention or goal for going to the meeting. When it’s business networking (and not just socializing with friends) having a plan will help make sure you make the most of your time.
Ask Questions to Get Better at Networking
Sometimes, the hardest part of attending a networking event is figuring out how to start talking to other people. I find this especially true when you’re more introverted or quiet or shy. Personally, as someone who tends to listen way more than talk in large social gatherings, how do you even start talking to someone.
It can be as simple as “Mind if I join you?” if you’re about to sit at a table to join a circle. Or even just asking “What do you do?” or “This is my first time, any pointers?” Asking questions will open the door for someone else to speak, plus you may get some good insider tips from a veteran attendee.
Listen More than You Speak to Get Better at Networking
If you’re a more quiet person, this is easy! People love to talk about themselves. They could probably do it all day, particularly if they are extroverts. I remember in the early days of networking, I would observe other people and listen to what they were saying. I would get a gist of whether or not I’d want to pursue more conversation or if it was time to bow out.
Excuse Yourself when Necessary
As a natural listener, I often find it hard to leave a conversation. Sometimes, you get stuck talking to someone and you’re ready to go. But you’re also polite and don’t want to be rude and just leave. While it’s easier when there’s a group of three, there are ways to leave an unproductive conversation.
You can use the following phrases to help you get out:
“It’s been great chatting with you, but I do need to say hello to a few other people.”
“I don’t want to take up all of your time, it was great chatting with you.”
“Thanks so much, I just have to touch base with XYZ.”
Or there’s always, “If you’ll excuse me, I have to go find the restroom”.
Follow Up After the Event to Get Better at Networking
So how do you make the most of your time attending a networking event and not let it go to waste? Follow up after the event! If you met someone at the event and feel like they would make a good business connection or a new friend in business, send them an email. Set up a time to grab coffee or lunch and connect on a deeper level.
Remember to make contact when your interaction is still fresh in the other person’s mind. If you wait too long (like more than a week), they will probably forget. I know I would! I know there have been times when I waited a little too long and then remembered that there was someone I wanted to connect with, but then I couldn’t remember their name or find their business card. So frustrating.
So be sure to make a running list of people you want to go deeper with. It definitely doesn’t have to be (and shouldn’t be) everyone that you talked to at the event. There will be people who stuck out, who were nice to talk to, who you can gauge if you’d like to talk more. Choose those people and send a quick email to follow up and plan to meet again.
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