These days it’s not about what you know, it’s about who you know. Meeting for coffee with the right person at the right time can have a huge impact on your career. To change the course of your professional life, it’s important to keep networking with as many valuable people as possible. Speak to people who know things that you don’t. People in different fields and at all levels. This gives you the opportunity to trade ideas and share information. You never know when one conversation will turn into a long-term professional relationship.
Contrary to popular belief that “opposites attract,” we are more likely to be attracted to like-minded people. Imagine that! Make it a point to seek out individuals that share your professional interests. We’ll explore some tips on how to handle uncomfortable “in real life” networking situations so you can walk into your next in-person event feeling a little more confident and ready to chat the night away.
Create a plan:
Prior to arriving at your event, prepare yourself by having a clear goal in mind. Think about what you want to achieve by having conversations with people. Think about the type of people you’d like to meet. Some events provide you with a list of attendees on their registration page. Use that to your advantage and make a list ahead of time. Having a good networking plan in your arsenal will improve your communication skills and start building your reputation within your field.
Before the event, have an updated resume, portfolio or website ready. Ideally, you’ll have solid exchanges that can help move your career forward. This could involve getting a job offer, the promise of a recommendation letter, bringing in an investor or landing a client that’s been at the top of your list. Your business card should include links to any information that you want people to easily access. You may also include your LinkedIN or LinkTree QR codes so that everyone you meet has direct access to your information.
Prepare a strong elevator pitch or unique proposition:
Everyone needs a strong elevator pitch to call their own. It should tell people what you do, demonstrate the value of your work and show your level of expertise in a clear and concise manner. Speak as if the person listening has zero knowledge or experience in your industry. Clearly defining your goals, products or services and presenting them in a way that resonates with your listeners while keeping them curious, will help you to come across as assertive, but not aggressive. It’s easier to connect with people at events if you can speak to them in a way that makes them feel important while still sharing your own strengths and talents in a relative context. Make sure to practice your elevator pitch with someone you can trust to give you honest feedback on your delivery. Ideally, your pitch will give you (no more than) 30 to 60 seconds to sell yourself and turn an acquaintance into your next client, employer or business partner.
Research other attendees:
A networking event is a great place to meet new people, learn new things and have fun with potential connections in a less formal setting. Taking some time beforehand to learn what the event is about can help boost your engagement with other attendees. If there is a virtual space where a list of attendees can be accessed, you can exchange LinkedIN accounts, schedule time with speakers, message other event goers and even plan to grab drinks together. When picking an event, start by looking for popular conventions and conferences hosted by notable companies within your field, and speaking engagements specific to your industry. Round table discussions and other casual social events such as trivia nights or happy hours are also great ways to meet new contacts. Social media is the best place to find these events but there are other online tools like Bizzabo, Eventbrite and Meetup.
Update your social media platforms:
If you’re giving new connections your social media links, you’re going to want to make sure they’re in tip top shape. These can include Twitter, Discord, Instagram, Telegram, LinkedIN, etc. Make sure you’re using the correct size profile photos and that they aren’t blurry. Using the same photo (or a similar one) and user name across all of your platforms will increase your recognition as a consistent brand. Make it a routine to review posts that you’re tagged in to make sure they don’t include anything inappropriate. When tailoring your profiles, make sure to use keywords that will lend themselves to proper SEO (search engine optimization) in your niche. You can use tools like SEMrush or Google Keyword Planner to find out what words people search for while looking for professionals in your field. Use Linktree to create a link that includes all of your social media accounts. Use this link whenever you can include a website link in your profile. Of course you should make sure that every link is in working order, and perhaps ask someone to test them for you to make sure. You can also ask colleagues to leave you endorsements and recommendations on LinkedIN to help build social trust.
Choosing the appropriate dress code:
“Dress how you want to be addressed” is a great motto when deciding what to wear to a networking event. Your outfit should reflect you. Your values, your profession and your personal brand. No matter what you wear, a little confidence goes a long way. Don’t overcomplicate it because you fear judgment from other attendees. Rather, aim for a simple, comfortable outfit so you can feel your best during new conversations. Before deciding what to wear, look at the vibe of the event. Is it formal? Is there no dress code at all? If you can, find a list of attendees before the event. If they are all freelancers and creatives, you might want to opt for more casual attire. If the event is being attended by mostly professionals from the law, banking or accounting industries, business or business-semi-formal is more appropriate. The purpose of the event can cause attire to differ as well. A summer rooftop bar event is going to hold a much different vibe than an event held in a business center with keynote speakers. If the event is annual, check the organizers socials to see if there are any photos from last year’s event to point you in the right direction.
Be ready to attend afterparties:
Believe it or not, many foundations for lasting partnerships and genuine connections are not made during the event itself. They’re made at the after party. These “off the book” encounters often create the perfect atmosphere for inspiring and productive conversations while giving you the freedom to ask questions in a more laid back setting. These parties can play a pivotal role in maximizing your brand awareness, so don’t skip out!
Develop a post-networking follow-up plan:
Following up with every single person you meet at an event is not necessary, but do take time to reach out to those that you share common interests with. This will help to solidify these relationships and open doors to great collaborations. Following up also gives you the opportunity to schedule a time to get together in the near future to continue a particular conversation you were having at the event or afterparty. Send a message within one to three days after the event reminding them of your meeting and thanking them for their time. Include specific details pertaining to the conversation you had. Before you ask your new contact for help, offer help. You may be able to introduce them to someone in your industry, or share some useful resources or trade secrets that can benefit their company. Don’t forget to connect on social channels like LinkedIn and Twitter.
Networking do’s and don’ts:
Remember not to be overly aggressive. Don’t chase people down. Respect their time, and never use their contact information to spam them. Make sure all communication after the event is thoughtful.
Do bring breath mints and a lighter. If someone asks for one of these, having one to offer is a great way to start a conversation. Have your business cards or a QR code at the ready, a phone charger, and your laptop/ipad to show presentations and take notes.
Proper networking is bound to open new doors for you and provide you with valuable advice and feedback. You’ll make connections that will write you letters of recommendation and provide words of encouragement when you need them most. With a little personality and professionalism, you’ll be making long-lasting, authentic relationships in no time.